As Carl Edwards steps away from NASCAR racing, an opportunity of a lifetime awaits 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Daniel Suarez.
Suarez will take over the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, as Edwards will pursue other opportunities outside of the sport.
It was only a matter of time before the Monterrey, Mexico native was going to move up to NASCAR’s top level, but not even he could have predicted it would have happened this rapidly.
After winning the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November, Suarez discussed moving up to the next level.
“XFINITY obviously is a great series where you get to race with some of the big guys and most of the time with the most important drivers from Cup, but you never race with all of them,” Suarez said at Homestead. “So, I’m pretty sure that the Cup car is going to be different, and to race with all those guys at the same time is going to be even more difficult.”
Some may call it being at the right place at the right time, but that doesn’t fully explain it, nor does it give Suarez the credit deserved for the hard work, dedication and sacrifice it took to make his dream a reality.
Suarez became the first Latin-American born driver to win a championship in NASCAR history, and accomplished the feat as a rookie on top of it.
His accelerated success is nothing short of remarkable, especially after Suarez reflected on the challenges he faced five short years ago.
“My biggest problem in the beginning when I moved to the U.S. just five years ago, four years ago, it was the language because I didn’t speak any English,” Suarez said. “A lot of people in Mexico really do speak English, but I didn’t have the opportunity to learn English when I was young, so when I moved to the U.S., I was more focused in the beginning to learn how to communicate with everyone than to learn how to drive.
“In the first year it was very, very tough because I just felt like as a driver I wasn’t going anywhere, but I really was learning slowly how to communicate.”
Now, he’ll be vying to become the first Mexican-born driver to win a Monster Energy Cup Series race.
And it’s not crazy to believe he can do just that in his rookie season.
This move is not only good for Suarez, but it will also have an extremely positive effect on NASCAR as a whole, for a number of reasons.
First, the move will bolster NASCAR’s efforts to tap into the Latin American market, something they have made great strides in, especially following Suarez’s XFINITY Series success.
Suarez also just turned 25 years old on Jan. 7. He brings a ton of young talent and enthusiasm, which is a perfect fit for Monster Energy’s first season as the Cup Series title sponsor. He and former JGR XFINITY teammate Erik Jones will compete for 2017 Rookie of the Year honors, as Jones begins his Cup career in the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota, a JGR affiliate.
Lastly, it ensures JGR’s already bright future. There’s no question Suarez is the perfect addition, joining Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin who continue to perform at a top-notch level, while Jones will also return to the JGR stable when the opportunity arises.
As Edwards rides off into the sunset, Suarez has all the talent in the world and the tools necessary to achieve a great deal of success in the Cup Series for many years to come.