Nothing fine but the wine and a win at the NASCAR Sonoma Toyota/Save Mart 350 series as race car driver Daniel Suarez enjoys a post race beverage at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma on Sun Jun 12, 2022 (AP News photo)
Suarez finds his groove, wins at Sonoma
By Tom Zulewski
SONOMA – After 194 career starts in the NASCAR Cup Series – including just two top-5 finishes in 2022 – Daniel Suarez was a driver in search of any good break he could find. When the third stage of the second road course race of the season was finished, Suarez earned his own slice of history.
Leading for 47 of the final 55 laps, Suarez won the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 12. The driver of the No. 99 Chievrolet for Trackhouse Racing earned hi s first Cup victory, became the second driver (Juan Pablo Montoya in 2007) to win his first race on a road course, and became just the fifth foreign-born driver to win a NASCAR Cup race.
Suarez beat runner-up Chris Buescher – who returned to the No. 17 car after missing last week’s Enjoy Illinois 300 at WWT Raceway due to COVID protocols – by nearly four full seconds.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Suarez said of his initial reaction to the moment after taking the checkered flag. “I’ve been working very hard for this moment not only for myself, but for my whole team. I’m very lucky to have great people around me.”
One of Suarez’ biggest supporters is his owner at Trackhouse Racing, Justin Marks. Marks had the utmost confidence that a breakthrough and celebration in Victory Lane would happen.
“Daniel checked a lot of boxes for us right away,” Marks said. “He’s an experienced Cup driver and he’s won when he’s been in position to win with his XFINITY championship (2016) and his truck wins. He’s had a chip on his shoulder and wanted to prove he belonged in the Cup series.”
When he took the lead from Buescher as Stage 3 began, Suarez was finally able to crush the chip and leave no doubt he belongs in NASCAR’s top series. The only time Suarez wasn’t at the front of the 36-car field came when Brad Keselowski led for a three-lap stretch from Lap 82 through 84.
A debris caution allowed Suarez to move back in front, and he stayed there over the final 26 laps to secure the win as his red-shirt supporters cheered loudly from the grandstands.
With teammate Ross Chastain already in the win column from the EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in March, the confidence had more than enough carryover for Suarez, who qualified 8th for the Toyota/SaveMart 350.
“We came here with a lot of road-course confidence,” Suarez said. “We didn’t have the best car today, but I felt like we made the right calls and the results showed that.”
Suarez gave additional credit to team engineer Jose Velasco, who wasn’t able to be at Sonoma due to illness.
“He called me crying,” Suarez said of Velasco, who was at home in Mexico City. “He’s a big part of this team.”
In the final stretch that gave Suarez the win, no words were necessary.
“”I just tried to stay calm,” he said. “I wanted to do my thing and didn’t want too much noise on the radio. I was controlling what I could control, and fi the caution came out, I was going to fight again.”
After Buescher, Michael McDowell finished third, while Kevin Harvick and Austin Cindric completed the top five. The race had four cautions for 14 laps, and the winning average speed was 78.008 mph.
The NASCAR Cup Series is off for Father’s Day and will return to racing June 26 at Nashville SuperSpeedway.