By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Daniel Suarez is the champion the NASCAR Xfinity Series needed and now that the Ford EcoBoost 300 is in the books that has become a reality.
The series has undergone several changes, including the inaugural Chase this season and Sprint Cup driver participation limitations beginning in 2017, but has received little positive impact. However, with the crowning of its new champion, the future has never looked better.
Justin Allgaier, Erik Jones and Elliott Sadler joined Suarez in what could easily be considered the Race of the Year in NASCAR’s second tier series. The four drivers battled and pushed each other to new heights around the 1.5-mile oval and at several points during the race swapped the lead as they occupied the front of the field collectively.
Despite the challenges, the 24-year-old Mexican continued to fight back and reclaim the lead on seven separate occasions for 133 laps.
The emphatic win was his third of the season, but more than that, it was a win for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and for a culture that is the minority in the American-based series.
Standing on pit road while the celebration ensued, fans of all ethnicities chanted and cheers to deafening levels.
NASCAR reported that as of 7:15 p.m. ET that the race had over 1.4 million social media impressions with 23% of overall postings being in Spanish. The social media mentions were over 44% higher than last year’s season finale en route to the biggest numbers for the series of the season.
Suarez drove to a perfect driver rating of a 150.00 for the first time ever in his career, raised an entirely new fan base to new heights and put a spotlight on the Xfinity Series.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver also appears to be set to return to his No. 19 ARRIS Toyota next season to defend his new crown instead of moving up to the Sprint Cup Series. With that in mind, NASCAR and Xfinity have a chance to really push itself to a formerly unforeseen market.
Thoughts of a return to Mexico City’s circuit come to mind and would be huge for a series seeking its own identity. Although in the short term that is unlikely, if there was ever a time to go for it, it would be now.
Suarez, a lone driver representing over 1.22 million people from Mexico, who elected to not follow in the footsteps of fellow countrymen Esteban Gutierrez and Sergio Perez to Formula 1, captured the heart of his country (and many others too) with his heart, determination and personality.
He has become a trendsetter. A barrier-breaking bulldozer. The young man holding the hammer as the glass ceiling shattered.
The 2012 NASCAR Mexico Series championship runner-up, who takes pride in representing all of Latin American, has finally broken down doors that a generation and culture that have tried to for so many years.
Suarez isn’t just the champion an entire country wanted, he’s the champion that NASCAR needs.