SONOMA — Daniel Suarez dominated the third and final stage of Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 to become the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race.
Suarez, age 30 from Monterrey, struggled after winning the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series title and moving up to the premier Cup Series in 2017. Now driving for the 2-year-old Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet team, owned by former driver Justin Marks and music star Pitbull, Suarez’s victory on Sunday was his first Cup Series win after 195 career starts.
“It’s been a rough journey in the Cup Series, and these guys at Trackhouse believe in me,” said an emotional Suarez after the race. “Everyone that helped me get to this point, a lot of people in Mexico and my family, they never gave up on me. A lot of people did, but they didn’t.”
Suarez took the lead from Chris Buescher on the lap 61 restart to begin the third stage of the 110-lap race. Suarez remained comfortably out in front over the remainder of the event, losing the lead only briefly during his final pit stop with 27 laps remaining, to finish almost four seconds ahead of Buescher at the checkered flag.
“I’m disappointed with myself that I couldn’t get it done today. Hurts to be that close, but congratulations to Suarez,'' Buescher said, whose second-place finish was a season best in his RFK Racing Ford. "We were trying, trying to get him, but we ran out of steam there.''
“We were fast all weekend and I keep telling my guys if we can run second, third or fourth every week we will eventually win one of these and qualify for the playoffs,” McDowell said. “We are getting closer and we will keep pushing hard.”
The opening 25-lap stage 1 of the race was controlled by 2021 Sonoma winner Kyle Larson and his Team Hendricks Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott.
Larson, age 29 of Elk Grove, started the race from the pole and held the lead over Elliott throughout the stage. Rolling the dice, Larson’s team elected to stay on the track for the stage 1 win while many of the other front-runners decided to pit before the end of the stage to gain position for stage 2.
Unlike last season when Larson swept both stages and the race, Sunday’s gamble proved to be an ill-fated decision. Larson finally pitted on lap 26 and promptly became mired in the middle of the pack for the remainder of the race.
Larson’s day got even worse on his final pitstop with 27 laps to go when he lost his right-front wheel while reentering to the track after his crew failed to fasten it properly. Larson would finish a disappointing 15th place while his crew chief, jack man and tire changer all received four week suspensions for the infraction.
Elliott’s race was also sabotaged in the pits. Unlike his teammate, Elliott pitted prior to the conclusion of stage 1 and as a result restarted from the front for stage 2. He held the lead for 23 laps before once again electing to pit just before the conclusion of the stage on lap 55 handing the stage 2 win to Joey Logano.
Elliott’s crew also had a problem securing a tire during his pit stop. Although Elliott was able to stop and back into his pit to tighten a loose left rear wheel, he did not get all the way back into the box and was penalized for pitting outside the box. Elliott never recovered from his drive-through penalty and spent the rest of the race struggling to get back to the front before finishing in eighth.
Suarez becomes the 12th driver to post a win this season, putting him in the 16-team Cup playoffs which commence with the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Sept. 4 and will end with the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 6.
Suarez joyously celebrated his victory with a world class burnout and waving a Mexican flag while his team partied wildly on the pit wall. In the nearby stands a group of about 350 fans from Suarez's program, Daniel's Amigos, which awards kids tickets to attend races, also screamed their approval.
Suarez addressed his rabid fans briefly in Spanish thanking them before adding: "This is the first one of many.''
Notes: After a one week break, the NASCAR Cup season returns with a trip to Nashville Superspeedway on Sunday, June 26.
Kyle Larson won the pole for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 for the fourth time, one short of Jeff Gordon’s career five poles at Sonoma.
Sonoma was the final race televised on the FOX networks this season. NBC will telecast the remaining races in 2022.
On Saturday, Kyle Busch won NASCAR Camping World Truck DoorDash 250 race and Jake Drew captured the win in the ARCA Menards Series West General Tire 200. Lathrop’s Eric “Bubba” Nascimento, the 2020 Stockton 99 Speedway track champion, finished seventh in the 26-car ARCA field.
NASCAR officials announced that the Busch Light Clash will return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 5, 2023.