Daniel Suarez made NASCAR history when he became the first Mexican driver to win a pole in the elite Cup series.
The milestone comes with a bit of an asterisk: Suarez earned the top spot for Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway because the times of front-row starters Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were tossed out because their cars failed inspection.
Suarez had qualified third but officially starts his bid for his first career Cup win from the pole.
“It feels good because we haven’t been running well lately,” Suarez said. “I feel like this is just the beginning of the weekend. The real business is (Sunday) and we have to keep this rolling.”
He was the “El campeon!” of NASCAR’s developmental series.
But the 2016 Xfinity Series champ failed to produce similar results when he was abruptly bumped to Cup on the heels of the stunning departure of Joe Gibbs Racing fixture Carl Edwards.
The 26-year-old Suarez has yet to win a Cup race in 56 career starts and has only two top-five finishes. He’s 20th in the standings in the No. 18 Toyota and will likely need a win to earn an automatic berth into NASCAR’s playoffs.
“The results of my race team has been pretty bad the last few months,” Suarez said. “When things are going bad, you have to work even harder.”
Suarez began racing karts in Mexico and moved to North Carolina as a teenager to pursue a career at NASCAR’s national level. He had to teach himself English by watching cartoons on American television and moved through NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program to land a job with JGR.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted in Spanish to Suarez after the Xfinity title, and called him “a pride for Mexico and Latin America.”
Gibbs signed him to his Xfinity Series program in 2014. He won three poles in 2015, had three wins and became NASCAR’s first Mexican champ a year later.
Suarez’s mother was at Pocono for one of the few times each season she visits her son at the track.
“It was pretty cool to have mom,” he said. “My entire family is in Mexico. It’s cool to have my mom with me and starting on the pole. It’s always more fun to have family on the weekend.”