Daniel Suarez raced his way into the history books on Saturday night, becoming the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR national series title after winning the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to claim the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series title.
The 24-year-old driver from Monterrey, Mexico beat out fellow championship contender Elliott Sadler on a restart with three laps to go and drove away from the field to collect his third win of the season and his first-career stock car title. He also gave Joe Gibbs Racing their fifth Xfinity Series owner’s championship.
Ty Dillon grabbed second in the closing laps, while Sadler finished third in the race and second in the championship standings. Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon rounded out the top five.
The other two drivers in the Championship 4 vying for the Xfinity Series title – Justin Allgaier and Erik Jones – finished sixth and ninth respectively.
Suarez, who earlier this became the first Latin American driver to win a NASCAR Xfinity race, becomes the first member of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program to win a title in one of NASCAR’s three major touring series.
“It’s very hard to put into words. I’m speechless right now,” said Suarez. “I’m just very proud of everyone and thankful to have the family that I have – my mom, my dad. They gave me all the tools to be here right now. They put me in a car even when we didn’t have the support or the racing background. They supported me and right now we are just living a dream.”
Suarez captured the pole for Saturday’s race and from the outset he looked to have the car to beat, leading a race-high 133 laps including 66 of the opening 79 circuits.
The four drivers who comprised the final four in the inaugural Xfinity Chase field took turns leading, and at one point were alone out front in the top four positions.
With 10 laps to go, Roy Black, Jr. spun to bring out the seventh caution flag of the day and brought the field to pit road for the their final stops.
Sadler, who had dropped back to 11th place at the time of the caution waved, gambled on two tires and won the race off pit road with Suarez in second followed by Erik Jones, Ty Dillon and Allgaier.
The field lined up for the start with the No. 14 of Cole Whitt- who elected to stay out – restarting on the outside of Suarez.
As the green flag waved, Whitt spun his tires, trapping Erik Jones and Allgaier behind him as Sadler, Suarez and Ty Dillon all dived to the inside headed into turn one.
Moments later, Suarez powered to the high side around Sadler and made the pass for the lead as they came out of turn two, moving out to a three-car length advantage.
Sadler tried to battle on the outside as they came through turn three, but was clearly no match for Suarez’s four fresh tires and quickly lost ground, falling back 10 car-lengths as they came to the white flag. Ty Dillon finally got around Sadler to take second place on the final lap but was too far back to mount any kind of challenge on Suarez.
Sadler came up just two points shy of clinching his own first-ever NASCAR title, finishing runner-up in the points for the third time in his career.
“I should have made a better block on Daniel,” said Sadler. “We didn’t know that 14 would stay out and jumble up that restart like that. I wish I’d done a better job on that restart. I guess I’ll be ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ for a while…
“I knew Daniel had a better car on four tires, but I wish I could have put up a better fight.”
Erik Jones, who took home the 2016 Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year award, took issue with Whitt’s decision to stay out on older tires knowing top four championship contenders were all restarting behind him.
“I hope I get the chance to talk to (Whitt). I don’t know what he was thinking,” said Jones. “That was pretty down low really. It’s not a lot of respect shown there. I don’t know if he’s never started up front in a race before. Either way it’s unfortunate. I hope I can just chat with him.
“I’d love to hear an explanation from him, from his crew chief. He was staying out there on old tires with four guys, literally almost the top four was the four championship guys racing for it. It just didn’t make any sense.”
Jones wound up fourth in the final points standings behind Allgaier followed by Ty Dillon. Ryan Reed, Blake Koch, Brennan Poole, Ryan Sieg and Brandon Jones made up the rest of the top ten in the standings.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Homestead-Miami Speedway – Homestead, FL
Ford EcoBoost 300 – November 19, 2016
1. (1) Daniel Suarez (C), Toyota, 200.
2. (11) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.
3. (2) Elliott Sadler (C), Chevrolet, 200.
4. (4) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 200.
5. (5) Austin Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 200.
6. (6) Justin Allgaier (C), Chevrolet, 200.
7. (7) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 200.
8. (14) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 200.
9. (3) Erik Jones (C) #, Toyota, 200.
10. (15) Aric Almirola(i), Ford, 200.
11. (9) Darrell Wallace Jr, Ford, 200.
12. (23) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 200.
13. (19) J.J. Yeley, Toyota, 200.
14. (8) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 200.
15. (10) Brandon Jones #, Chevrolet, 200.
16. (13) Ryan Reed, Ford, 200.
17. (18) Cole Custer(i), Chevrolet, 200.
18. (16) Cole Whitt(i), Toyota, 200.
19. (25) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 199.
20. (12) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 199.
21. (26) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 199.
22. (20) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 199.
23. (31) Brandon Brown(i), Chevrolet, 198.
24. (27) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 198.
25. (39) Matt Tifft(i), Toyota, 197.
26. (35) Travis Kvapil(i), Ford, 196.
27. (17) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 196.
28. (30) Ray Black, Jr. #, Chevrolet, 195.
29. (28) Garrett Smithley #, Chevrolet, 195.
30. (34) Brandon Hightower, Dodge, 195.
31. (29) B.J. McLeod #, Ford, 195.
32. (40) Jeff Green, Ford, 194.
33. (38) Josh Reaume, Chevrolet, 193.
34. (37) Josh Bilicki, Chevrolet, 189.
35. (21) Corey LaJoie, Toyota, Oil Leak, 167.
36. (22) Jordan Anderson(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 134.
37. (33) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, Ignition, 87.
38. (36) Mario Gosselin, Chevrolet, Overheating, 49.
39. (32) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, Brakes, 43.
40. (24) Matt DiBenedetto(i), Toyota, Vibration, 2.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 116.455 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 34 Mins, 34 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.968 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 7 for 39 laps.
Lead Changes: 21 among 11 drivers.
Lap Leaders: D. Suarez (C) 1-22; K. Larson(i) 23-26; T. Kvapil(i) 27; T. Hill(i) 28-30; K. Larson(i) 31-35; D. Suarez (C) 36-79; J. Allgaier (C) 80; R. Sieg 81; K. Larson(i) 82-95; T. Dillon 96-99; D. Suarez (C) 100-113; T. Dillon 114-126; D. Suarez (C) 127-137; A. Almirola(i) 138-142; D. Suarez (C) 143-151; J. Allgaier (C) 152-156; E. Jones (C) # 157-159; A. Almirola(i) 160-163; D. Suarez (C) 164-193; C. Whitt(i) 194-196; E. Sadler (C) 197; D. Suarez (C) 198-200.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): D. Suarez (C) 7 times for 133 laps; K. Larson(i) 3 times for 23 laps; T. Dillon 2 times for 17 laps; A. Almirola(i) 2 times for 9 laps; J. Allgaier (C) 2 times for 6 laps; T. Hill(i) 1 time for 3 laps; E. Jones (C) # 1 time for 3 laps; C. Whitt(i) 1 time for 3 laps; T. Kvapil(i) 1 time for 1 lap; E. Sadler (C) 1 time for 1 lap; R. Sieg 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 10 in Points: D. Suarez (C) – 4,040; E. Sadler (C) – 4,038; J. Allgaier (C) – 4,035; E. Jones (C) # – 4,032; T. Dillon – 2,214; R. Reed – 2,205; B. Koch – 2,200; B. Poole # – 2,192; R. Sieg – 2,171; B. Jones # – 2,168.