On Sunday June 12, 2022, Daniel Suarez won his first career NASCAR Cup Series race. The 30 year old from Monterrey, Mexico was in his 195th career NASCAR Cup Series start when he won the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. Suarez won by around 5 seconds over runner Chris Buescher, who is seeking his first win since 2016, and led the most laps that day, leading 47 of the 110 laps. Sonoma is no easy track to win at. The 1.99-mile, 12 turn road course in the heart of the Napa Valley features a total of 160 feet in elevation changes throughout. He also became the 202nd different driver to win in the NASCAR Cup Series. Suarez also became the 40th different driver to win in all 3 of NASCAR’s top 3 national series (Cup, Xfinity, and Trucks). With his win, Suarez joins an exclusive club of foreign born NASCAR Cup Series race winners, becoming only the fifth foreign born driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race.
Being a foreign born NASCAR winner is a highly exclusive club. Suarez joins only 4 other drivers in the feat: Mario Andretti (Italy), Earl Ross (Canada), Juan Pablo Montoya (Colombia), and Marcos Ambrose (Australia). While NASCAR is a predominantly American motorsport, that hasn’t stopped foreign challengers from trying. The first of the five was Mario Andretti. Andretti was born in 1940 in Montona, Kingdom of Italy. That was so long ago, that region of Italy is now part of Croatia. Mario Andretti has had one of the most illustrious and decorated careers in auto racing. His name has been synonymous with speed in America for decades. Andretti won the 1978 Formula 1 World Driver’s Championship and won a total of 4 championships in IndyCar racing (three under USAC sanctioning and one under CART sanctioning). In 1967, Mario Andretti won the Daytona 500. Andretti led 112 of 200 laps in his Holman-Moody Ford, pulling away from 1965 winner Fred Lorenzen to secure the win. He became the first foreign born NASCAR Cup Series race winner and the first foreign born Daytona 500 winner.
The only other driver to win in NASCAR, Formula 1, and IndyCar is Juan Pablo Montoya from Colombia. Montoya is sadly reduced to a punchline nowadays due to a bizarre incident in the 2012 Daytona 500 where a broken steering column caused him to hit a jet dryer and stopped the race due to a massive fire. Thankfully no one was hurt. Montoya, like a lot of professional racers, began his career in karting. In 1992, he moved up to the Colombian Formula Renault Series. In 1998, Montoya won the International Formula 3000 Championship. In 1999, he drove in American open wheel racing for Chip Ganassi Racing, winning the 1999 CART Championship. Montoya competed in Formula 1 from 2001-2006 for Williams and McLaren, winning 7 races and achieving 30 podiums and 13 pole positions. Montoya competed full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series from 2007-2013, driving once again for Chip Ganassi. He scored two Cup wins, both on road courses: Sonoma in 2007 and Watkins Glen in 2008. He also won a NASCAR Xfinity Series (then called the Busch Series for sponsorship reasons) race in 2007 in Mexico. Montoya returned to the IndyCar ranks in 2014, where he won his second Indianapolis 500. He currently competes in sports car racing.
Earl Ross is the least known of the five. Born on September 4, 1941 in Fortune, Prince Edward Island, Canada, Ross competed in 26 NASCAR Cup Series races between 1973 and 1976. Ross won the 1974 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year Award, as he competed in a total of 21 races that year. His sole win came at the 1974 Old Dominion 500 at the Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia. In terms of oval tracks, Martinsville is one of the hardest on the schedule. Shaped like a paperclip, the small half mile oval is contested over the course of 400 laps in the spring and 500 laps in the fall. The track showcases rough and tumble, beating and banging short track racing. Ross’s win propelled him to the ROTY, and he left NASCAR after failing to qualify for the 1978 Daytona 500. Ross competed in a number of regional racing series throughout the 1980’s and ultimately retired from racing in the 1990’s. Earl Ross died on September 18, 2014 at age 73, and he currently remains the only Canadian to win a NASCAR Cup Series race.
Marcos Ambrose was the king of New York. Both his NASCAR Cup Series wins came in back-to-back years in Watkins Glen, New York, winning in 2011 and 2012. The latter win was known for a duel with Brad Keselowski. The two were aggressively going for the win, sliding around as a damaged car had leaked oil on parts of the track. While Ambrose, a perennial fan favorite, would win the race, it would be Brad Keselowski who would ultimately win the championship by season’s end. Ambrose also won 4 of his career NASCAR Xfinity Series wins at Watkins Glen. Before coming to NASCAR, Ambrose competed in V8 Supercars in his home country of Australia. From 2001-2005, he racked up a total of 28 wins and won back-to-back championships in 2003 and 2004. In addition to running the full NASCAR Cup Series schedule in 2014, Ambrose returned to V8 Supercars to run the final 3 rounds of the season before running part-time in 2015. Ambrose competed in the NASCAR Cup Series full-time from 2009-2014, and ran part-time in 2007 and 2008. During his full-time seasons, he competed for JTG-Daugherty Racing (a team owned by former NBA All-Star Brad Daugherty) and Richard Petty Motorsports, the team he got both of his wins with. Ambrose is retired from racing as a driver, and currently works as the competition director for Gerry Rodgers Motorsport.
And now we come to Suarez. Born in Monterrey, Mexico, Suarez began his racing career in 2002 at only 10 years old when he began racing karts. He would work his way up the ladder to the NASCAR Mexico Series. Suarez competed full-time in the series from 2011-2014, winning 10 races and placing second in the 2013 championship standings. In 2016, Suarez became the first foreign born NASCAR champion, winning 3 races and the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion (NASCAR’s second-tier series) for Joe Gibbs Racing. Originally, the plan for 2017 was for Suarez to defend his title, but after the unexpected retirement of Carl Edwards, Joe Gibbs put him full-time in the Cup Series. After two seasons, he was out at JGR and went to Stewart-Haas Racing to drive their No. 41 Ford Mustang. SHR turned out to be a one and done, as Suarez was booted from the 41 in favor of Cole Custer, an up and coming talent in Ford’s driver development pipeline. 2020 was a lost year, as he competed full-time for backmarker team Gaunt Brothers Racing in their No. 96 Toyota Camry. Despite being a Toyota team, GBR is not backed by Toyota Racing Development and field their entries as privateer Toyotas. His best finish in 2020 was 18th, which he achieved twice, and finished the year 31st in points. Then opportunity came knocking. Former NASCAR driver Justin Marks formed a new team for 2021 called Trackhouse Racing, and tapped Suarez to drive his No. 99 Chevy Camaro full-time in 2021. The team got an added publicity boost from having rapper Pitbull come aboard as a part owner just before the Daytona 500. 2021 was a building year for Trackhouse, as 2021 was the last year of the Gen 6 car NASCAR used beginning in 2013. Justin Marks even said the team was founded with the current Next Gen car in mind, and 2021 was more of a season to build a foundation for future success. Trackhouse began fielding a second car in 2022, the No. 1 Chevy Camaro for watermelon farmer turned NASCAR driver Ross Chastain. Chastain won twice going into the race at Sonoma, and Suarez was feeling the pressure. A win would lock him into the NASCAR playoffs. And he did. He led the most laps and committed minimal mistakes. Now he’s in the playoffs and can compete for the Cup.
Seeing a driver get his first win is always a treat. Hearing the crows go wild for a first-time winner is a lovely feeling, and in all my years of attending races one I’ve participated in. Being a Latino driver in a top-tier racing series, I’d like to point out I’ve seen more Latino fans at races since Suarez’s championship. His fan club Daniel’s Amigos is great at building a sense of community among his fanbase, and they’re very lively in their appearances at races. Daniel Suarez did not have an easy journey to NASCAR Cup Series victory lane, but it was well worth it as the payoff of arriving at the destination resulted in a joyous celebration and membership into a very exclusive club.