|Credit: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images|
Daniel Suárez of Monterrey, Mexico took the checkered flag in the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway Saturday evening, and with it the Xfinity Series Championship. In doing so, he became the first foreign-born driver to win a NASCAR national series title.
All four of the Xfinity Series drivers contending for the title in the first Chase Championship race had compelling stories.
Elliott Sadler, a 20-year veteran of NASCAR who is with his fifth team in six seasons of Xfinity competition, found a home with his friend Dale Earnhardt Jr’s organization. Erik Jones, the 20-year-old 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion,who managed to cope with the death of his father and still have a successful season. Justin Allgaier, 30, who returned to the Xfinity Series after a two-year foray into Cup. Suárez, the 24-year-old Drive For Diversity alumnus, who learned to speak English by watching cartoons.
“To win here in Homestead and to have a lot of fans and people from Latin America, Mexicans, all over Latin America, it's something great for me.” Suárez stated. “And on the side of that, I have my mom, my dad, my family from Houston, my friends from Mexico, my friend Coco over there that I used to race cars with him when I was 13 years old. A lot of friends were here. More than 30 people were here just to have fun with me, to enjoy this weekend, and what a better way to finish this way.”
He added, “I'm just very proud of my team, very proud of everyone that has been helping me to be in this position, and it's still hard to believe this. It's still hard to believe this. But we worked hard, and this team really deserves these results.”
|Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images|
After the green flag flew, each driver demonstrated why he belonged in the Championship Four. Suárez and Sadler started on the front row. Suárez ran in the top five all night, while Sadler fell back as far as 16th after scraping the wall trying to run the high line. Allgaier ran up front almost the whole race, and Jones, who rolled off third, rallied back to the top five in the final laps.
Suárez started on the pole and led seven times for a race-high 133 laps. Had the race gone green to the end, he’d likely have won with ease. However, Ray Black Jr. spun on Lap 191, bunching up the field and setting up a shoot-out which would, under other circumstances, have given the other three contenders a chance at the win.
But while the leaders pitted, Cole Whitt stayed out. The driver of the No. 14 told NBC’s Dustin Long that the team was out of tires, so he was told not to pit. A two-tire call on the Lap 192 stop put Sadler and the No. 1 back on the front row, with Suárez behind him. Jones, Ty Dillon and Allgaier followed.
When the green flag flew, Whitt couldn’t get out of the way quickly enough. Sadler, on the inside, surged ahead with Suárez on his bumper.
As soon as they cleared the slow-moving lower line, Suárez streaked past Sadler to the lead and never looked back.
Visibly disappointed in the loss, Sadler explained. “This is by far the hardest because I feel like this is the best team I've probably ever worked with. Before when I've come to Homestead, I've been a few points back, and like if certain situations happened, you know, you might could win, but it's a long shot, but here with four guys even, we all wanted to win. We all felt like we all had a chance of winning.”
“With the team I have now, love them to death, and we've had such good race cars all year.” I wanted to be able to look my guys in the eye and give them a championship, and I told Kelley that after the race, and she was very supportive, and she's got my back. I really wanted to hand her a trophy, and not doing that just ‑‑ it hurts and stings a little bit and makes you wonder what you could have done different.” Sadler finished third, obviously two spots short of his goal.
Allgaier also expressed disappointment at the way the race ended.
“Just to run as good as we did tonight, our Brandt Fresh Agriculture team has done a great job all year, but tonight I felt like we did what we had to do and put ourselves in great position and unfortunately just didn't materialize, didn't get to race for it at the end, and that's probably the hardest pill to swallow over tonight.” he said. The No. 7 Brandt car finished in sixth.
Frustration mixed with disappointment for Jones, who was stuck behind Whitt and had no chance to get past him for the win. Instead, he got shuffled back and came home ninth.
“Right there at the end the sun went down and the track cooled down and the car came around a little bit and we were able to run the 19 (Daniel Suárez) down and if the caution didn’t come out, I think we had a pretty good shot at getting around him there.” said Jones.
“We didn’t have any sticker tires left at the end. I don’t know if it would have worked out or not, the 14 (Cole Whitt) didn’t even attempt to go and sacked the whole top line – wasn’t spinning his tires or nothing,” Jones explained. “I don’t know what was going on there. Either way, it’s unfortunate. We did a really nice job making our stuff better, getting to where it needed to be to have a shot. It just didn’t work out.”
Ty Dillon took advantage of Whitt’s blocking traffic and he wound up second. "What an exciting race that came down to the final laps. I thought we may have been able to grab the win there at the end. We showed so much speed all weekend and the entire race, but probably needed two or three more laps to run down the 19 car.”
Fourth place went to Ryan Blaney, and the elder Dillon brother, Austin, finished fifth.
The Championship team owner, Joe Gibbs, described the newest NASCAR champion:
“The thing I'd say about Daniel for all young people out there, he probably ‑‑ he mentioned being part of a family. He actually obeys me more than my two boys do, J.D. and Coy. If you tell Daniel to be in the weight room, and Jimmy is tough on him sometimes and tells him what he needs to do and the sponsors, even if it's another sponsor that's not even on his car, he will show up at the events we have, whether it's bowling or anything else.” Gibbs stated.
“So I just say to young people out there, if you have that kind of work ethic and that kind of a person and that kind of character ‑‑ and he just mentioned he taught himself English; how do you do that, and how do you go to a country and not really have support there, don't speak the language? It tells you what kind of guts he's got.”
Complete unofficial results:
|11||9||6||Darrell Wallace, Jr.|
|28||30||7||Ray Black, Jr.|