A little over 10 years ago, Monterrey, Mexico’s Daniel Suarez came to the US to pursue his dreams of racing in NASCAR. From that point onward, Suarez’s American Dream was full of ups and downs and highs and lows — but today in Sonoma Raceway, it culminated in his primera victoria at stock car racing’s highest level.
Suarez dominated the second half of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma, leading 47 laps in all and driving away from Chris Buescher in the final laps to pick up his very first NASCAR Cup Series win. With his win, Suarez not only became the fourth first-time winner of 2022, but he also became the fifth foreign-born winner in NASCAR Cup Series history. Suarez of Mexico joins Mario Andretti of Italy, Earl Ross of Canada, Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia and Marcos Ambrose of Australia among NASCAR’s foreign-born victors.
Toyota/Save Mart 350 unofficial results
- #99 – Daniel Suarez
- #17 – Chris Buescher
- #34 – Michael McDowell
- #4 – Kevin Harvick
- #2 – Austin Cindric (R)
- #12 – Ryan Blaney
- #1 – Ross Chastain
- #9 – Chase Elliot
- #24 – William Byron
- #6 – Brad Keselowski
Suarez’s first victory was equal parts popular and prideful. His front stretch celebration featured several calls to his heritage, culminating in Suarez joyfully busting open a taco-shaped piñata.
As he reveled in the moment, an emotional Suarez reflected on his path to win No. 1 after 195 career starts. After winning the Xfinity Series championship in 2016, Suarez was abruptly moved to Cup following the sudden retirement of Carl Edwards, but he was cast aside at Joe Gibbs Racing after just two seasons. After one season at Stewart-Haas Racing and another for the underfunded Gaunt Brothers Racing, Suarez found a home at Trackhouse Racing, which he has now brought to Victory Lane for the third time this season.
“It’s been a rough road. It’s been a rough journey in the Cup Series,” Suarez told Fox Sports. “These guys believe in me. Trackhouse Racing, Justin Marks, Ty Norris, everyone that helped me get to this point. A lot of people in Mexico, Jay Morales, Carlos Slim, my family — they never gave up on me. A lot of people did, but they didn’t.
“Just very happy we were able to make it work … Es el primera de muchas. This is the first one of many.”
Here’s more from a banner day for Daniel Suarez, and the latest twist in a season that has now seen 12 different drivers visit Victory Lane in 16 races.
The Unusual Suspects
No matter how the run to the finish ended up playing out Sunday, it was clear the outcome was going to upend the NASCAR playoff picture. On the final run starting with 23 laps to go, Suarez’s main challengers for the lead included Chris Buescher — who ran up front all race just one week after missing Gateway due to COVID-19 — and 2021 Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell.
Like Suarez, both Buescher and McDowell’s most realistic paths towards qualifying for a playoff spot is winning a race between now and Daytona in August. Buescher was able to keep pace with Suarez throughout the first half of the final run, but he faded at the finish and earned a season-best runner-up some five seconds back.
Meanwhile, McDowell’s weekend was one of the most complete of his Cup career, as he qualified a career-best fourth and ran in the top 10 virtually the entire race, finishing third. McDowell’s season-best finish marked his first top five of 2022 and his fifth top-10 finish since Bristol in mid-April, further validating his standing as a potential dark horse to contend for a win and make the playoffs.
It’s the pits
The path to Suarez, Buescher, and McDowell settling things among themselves was largely opened through pit road miscues from some more established contenders. After winning the pole and Stage 1, Kyle Larson was unable to make his way back to the lead after alternate pit strategies mired him in mid-pack to start Stage 2. Larson’s issues ended up becoming much worse later in the race, as a right front wheel left loose on his car came off in Turn 1. Larson was able to salvage a 15th-place finish, but he will now loose crew chief Cliff Daniels and two crew members for the next four races.
Chase Elliott led much of Stage 2 in Larson’s stead, but he too was felled by pit troubles. Elliott had to back up and return to his stall after his team caught a left rear wheel loose, but his nose ended up outside of his pit box, leading to a penalty for pitting outside of the box. In Stage 3, Kevin Harvick looked to have as fast a car as Chris Buescher’s, but his chances of winning were severely hampered by a slow green flag stop.
Pit road miscues ended up determining the comers and goers in a race that featured little attrition, as 35 of the 36 cars that started the race were running at the finish. The lone exception was Bubba Wallace, who blew an engine on Lap 10 and ended up as the lone DNF.
From the finishing order
- In addition to earning his first Cup win, Daniel Suarez has also set a new career high for laps led in a single season. Suarez has now led 203 laps on the year, exceeding his previous best of 166 laps led in 2019.
- Chris Buescher’s second-place finish is his best since his lone Cup Series win at Pocono in 2016. It is also the best finish for RFK Racing since Ryan Newman finished second at Talladega in 2019.
- With his sixth top 10 of the season, Michael McDowell has now set a new career high for top 10s in a single season, exceeding the mark of five he set last year. In addition, McDowell’s third-place run marks his best ever finish on a non-superspeedway.
- Austin Cindric was the highest-finishing rookie, with his fifth-place finish marking his first top five since winning the Daytona 500 and his first top 10 since Circuit of the Americas in March.
- Joining Chris Buescher in the top 10 was Brad Keselowski, who came home in 10th to earn just his second top 10 of the season and his first since the Daytona 500 in February. This also marks the first time that both RFK Racing cars have finished in the top 10 since Darlington in May 2021.
- The Toyota teams will be very glad to leave Sonoma in their rearview mirror. Kurt Busch in 18th was the lone Toyota in the entire top 25, as pit strategy calls by Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. took them out of the running for a good finish in the final laps. Christopher Bell was a non-factor and finished 27th, while Kyle Busch never recovered from a spin on a restart and finished 30th.
- Give a hand to Joey Hand. The veteran road racer was solid all weekend for Rick Ware Racing, finishing 20th for his best result in just three cup starts.
- Thanks to varying pit strategies at the end of stages, a couple of drivers who don’t usually run up front were able to capitalize and earn some stage points. Those drivers included rookies Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland, as well as Josh Bilicki and Cody Ware.
The NASCAR Cup Series will honor thy father next week, as a Father’s Day break makes for the series’ lone off weekend of the 2022 season. Afterwards, the Cup Series will head to Music City and Nashville Superspeedway for the Ally 400 on June 26.