NASCAR's Daniel Suarez 'proud to be a Latin American driver'
AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) NASCAR's first full-time Mexican driver sidestepped questions Friday about chairman Brian France's endorsement of Donald Trump while expressing pride in his heritage.
Daniel Suarez of the Xfinity Series said he doesn't follow politics and didn't know France had endorsed Trump for president last week until his public relations manager called him.
''All I can say about that is I'm super proud to be Mexican, to be a Latin American driver in the United States,'' Suarez said. ''I've been very lucky to have a lot of support from the United States and from NASCAR in the past four years.''
Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, has described illegal Mexican immigrants as criminals and vowed to deport the estimated 11 million people living illegally in the U.S.
France, whose family has controlled NASCAR since its founding, has been criticized for endorsing Trump at a rally last week in Georgia. Sprint Cup drivers Ryan Newman and Chase Elliott and retired drivers Bill Elliott and Mark Martin also have endorsed Trump.
France told The Associated Press this week he was surprised to see that ''my diversity efforts for my whole career would have been called into question over this, in my view, a routine endorsement.''
The 24-year-old Suarez, from Monterrey, Mexico, has three top-10 finishes in three races in NASCAR's second-tier series this season. He's the first driver to rise this far under NASCAR's ''drive for diversity'' program, which steers funds to minority drivers.
''Who knows if without being Mexican if I would be here right now,'' Suarez said. ''It's been unbelievable the support I've had from NASCAR.''
Suarez was 12th-fastest in the first practice session Friday leading to Saturday's race at Phoenix International Raceway. He expects many supporters this weekend in the heavily Hispanic area and addressed fans in Spanish at the end of a news conference.
''I'm very proud to be Mexican,'' Suarez said, ''and whatever is going on with the politics is not going to change anything.''