Stock car gain, open wheel's loss.
But for the prompting of his friend and manager, Daniel Suarez might be racing open-wheel cars in Europe, rather than rising to the top levels of the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
For that matter, if not for a timely call from Escuderia TELMEX, Suarez might still be racing mini stocks as a hobby in his native Monterrey, Mexico.
Seven years ago, Suarez, then 16, sat in a meeting that changed the direction of his career.
By then, TELMEX had recognized Suarez's undeniable talent, but the sponsor was pushing him to pursue an open-wheel career in Europe—and with good reason.
That was the path chosen by fellow Monterrey native Esteban Gutierrez, who raced for Sauber in the Formula One Series from 2011 through 2014, first as a reserve driver, then as a teammate to Nico Hulkenberg.
Gutierrez and Suarez, both, 23, had competed on equal footing in go-karts, and the natural assumption was that Suarez would follow his former rival into open wheels.
“At one point, when I was 16 years old, I remember I was in a meeting with those two options on the table, either NASCAR or go to England to race… I think at that time it was Formula Renault,” Suarez told the NASCAR Wire Service during a conversation behind his transporter at Texas Motor Speedway.
“The reason that option of England was on the table was [because of] a Mexican driver who is racing right now in Formula One (Gutierrez). I had spent a couple of years racing with him in go-karts and in Monterrey as well.
“From five championships, he won two, I won the other two and another guy won the other one. So the competition was pretty much Gutierrez or Suarez. It was pretty common to see one of these two kids fighting for the win.”
Manager saw potential
But Suarez’s manager, Jimmy Morales, saw the potential in NASCAR racing and encouraged him to consider racing stock cars.
“TELMEX wanted me to pursue Europe as well,” Suarez said. “But when Jimmy came out with NASCAR, I wasn’t sure, to be honest. I had no experience at all racing with a wall on the right side. It was different. Jimmy told me it was the toughest sport, because the competition is super, super tight. A few weeks later, we decided to move up with NASCAR.
“I said, ‘I have no experience in this, but just treat me like I was your son, and if you say NASCAR, we’ll go for NASCAR.’ I’m really glad we made that decision.”
Since making the move, Suarez has succeeded at every level of NASCAR Racing. His potential earned him a spot in the inaugural NASCAR Next class, an industry initiative which spotlights NASCAR’s emerging talent. On the track, he won 10 times in 58 starts in the NASCAR Mexico Series. He also picked up three victories in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East driving for owner Max Siegel under the banner of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program.
Now a full-time member of the NASCAR XFINITY Series with Joe Gibbs Racing, with backing from TELMEX and primary sponsor Arris, Suarez has scored three top 10s in eight starts during his rookie season, including a career-best second at Bristol.
After a sixth-place finish last Friday at Richmond International Raceway, he leads fellow Drive for Diversity alumnus Darrell Wallace Jr. by two points in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings.
But Suarez’ meteoric career arc might not have been possible, had Escuderia TELMEX not come calling at the right time.
In his mid-teens, racing in Monterrey, Suarez had gone as far as he could go with help from his father and a friend who gave him his start in racing.
TELMEX right on time
“A year-and-a-half later, I got a call from Escuderia TELMEX to go and race for them, and that started to open some doors and get more professional, and I believed at that time I had a shot to make my hobby my profession,” Suarez said.
The climb through the ranks of NASCAR Racing, however, was anything but easy. From 2011 through 2014, Suarez raced in both the NASCAR Mexico and K&N Series, but after a lackluster K&N season in 2012, his future in that series was in doubt.
And after 2012, Suarez had all but exhausted his resources when it came to racing in the United States. That’s when he turned to the Drive for Diversity program. After an intense three-day combine at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, Suarez earned one of Rev Racing’s K&N seats for 2013.
“At that point, we were about to run out of money to race in K&N, so we decided to try the Drive for Diversity program,” Suarez said. “My goal was to race in the K&N, but if I had to settle for Late Models, I would take it, because I didn’t have anything else.”
In 2013, Suarez finished third in the K&N Pro Series East standings. He started the 2014 season with wins at a pair of Florida tracks, New Smyrna and Daytona, but suffered six subsequent did not finishes, five because of crashes. Nevertheless, Suarez had demonstrated two essential characteristics that promised to propel him forward—speed and the willingness to drive aggressively.
With considerable help from Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Cup Series drivers Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, Suarez has begun learning patience as he learns new race tracks. After a crash knocked him out of the XFINITY season opener at Daytona, he has finished all seven races since, running on the lead lap in five of them.
“NASCAR is tough,” Suarez said. “The best drivers and the best teams in the world are in the sport. Since I was young, I’ve enjoyed battling with the best drivers and the best teams in the world. Definitely, it’s really good to be here.”
Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service