By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
After sensational rookie campaigns in last season, second-year drivers Daniel Suarez and Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace Jr. impressed in the Saturday’s season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
The day began very differently for each of the respected drivers.
Suarez, 24, started the Powershares QQQ 300 on the outside of the front row in his No. 19 Toyota and remained among the top 10 for the first half of the race.
At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Wallace, 22, started the race at the rear of the field in a backup car after a practice crash on Friday and was forced to slowly work his way up the field.
As the race reached its closing laps both drivers were in prime position to win.
Saurez, the 2015 XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year, trailed Wallace with less than 20 laps to go, with the duo running third and fourth.
On the final lap, Wallace closed on the back bumper of second place runner Elliott Sadler in the low line, but the top lane gathered momentum and began to surge ahead. In the end, Wallace fell to sixth and Suarez stumbled to eighth as they crossed the finish line.
“Man, I’m getting a little bit emotional just to finish one of these deals. It feels like I won, so it’s cool,” said Wallace, after his career-best finish at a restrictor plate track.
The finish is even more impressive for Wallace when considering the short turnaround to put a proper setup in the backup car and the composure maintained by the Roush Fenway Racing driver.
“I’m trying to mature,” said Wallace. “I’m trying to learn more about this racing deal and I’m just a little young punk kid that happens to be lucky enough to drive a race car and trying to make the most of it. When you surround yourself with the right people – Seth, making the great calls all day, it’s fun to come to the race track and have a good day, so this is a win for us for sure. I don’t care if Chase [Elliott] won, we won.”
For Suarez, the eighth place result puts the Joe Gibbs Racing driver in prime position to begin a strong championship run.
Both drivers sit among the top four in the championship standings.
Image: Sean Gardner/Getty Images