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AVONDALE, Ariz. – With his winning ways, Daniel Suárez probably should buy a lottery ticket.
Suárez, of Monterrey, Mexico, rebounded from a pit road mistake to win the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series season-opening Toyota 120 Friday night at Phoenix International Raceway.
After starting from the outside pole position, Suárez quickly got around pole sitter Rubén Pardo and held the lead until a Lap 46 stop for fuel when he was nabbed for speeding on pit road. The resulting pass-through penalty put Suárez at the tail of the field.
“I felt like, without a doubt, we had the fastest car when the race started,” said Suárez. “I was initially worried that it wouldn’t be as strong as I would want it to be in the second part of the race, so my plan was to save my tires as much as I could. We had a penalty for speeding on pit road and had to go to the rear.”
From there he methodically marched through the field and was in the top three before Lap 90.
|4||Luis Felipe Montaño|
“To move up the field, I ended up having to use my tires more than I would have liked,” Suárez continued. “It got a lot harder for me to keep up with the race leaders.”
That didn’t stop Suárez from challenging race-leader Antonío Peréz for the top spot. Over the final 10 laps, the two drivers waged a nip-and-tuck battle, with Peréz holding the edge until the final lap. Shortly after the white flag flew, Suárez shortcut the backstretch dogleg to gain the advantage and score his sixth career Toyota Series triumph.
“Antonío Peréz is an excellent driver, a very good friend and a great teammate,” said Suárez, “we weren’t going to do anything dumb or finish wrecking each other in the final laps. If he won it would have been clean, if I won it would have been clean. I was just trying to pressure him as much as possible and hope he made a mistake, and that’s what happened.”
The 22-year-old driver has strung together four straight NASCAR touring series victories. He started the run in the Toyota Series’ 2013 season finale in Mexico City last November. Then, he launched his 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East campaign with a pair of wins earlier this month.
“People have asked what we’ve been doing to be so successful lately,” Suárez said. “The truth is, there are so many people that work hard, so many people who support me and the team. This has brought us together even more and given us strength to reach a common goal.”
Defending series champion Rodrigo Peralta, making his Phoenix International Raceway debut, also got past Peréz on the last circuit to record a runner-up finish. The 25-year-old Queretaro, Mexico, native did not show any signs of nervousness racing on the one-mile speedway.
“It was a very fun race on an incredible track,” said Peralta. “It’s a long, 15-race season and we’re happy to start it off on the right foot. This motivates us moving forward, but, as I said, it’s a long season and we have 14 races left. I just have to take it one race at a time and move forward.”
Peréz, the 2008 series champion, was forced to settle for a frustrating third-place finish, his second top-three in as many starts at Phoenix.
“The final result was a little frustrating,” said Peréz. “I take solace in the fact that it’s the first race of the year, and I’m confident that we’ll have a lot of wins this season. I’m happy with my car, we paced the field for about 60 laps, were very fast, but, in the end, races sometimes turn out this way. The important thing is to keep on working.”
Luis Felipe Montaño and Pardo finished fourth and fifth, respectively. The balance of the top 10 was made up of José Luis Ramírez, Rubén Garcia Jr., Rafael Martínez, Freddy Tame Jr. and Mario Dominguez.
As a member of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity initiative, Suárez also competes fulltime in the K&N Pro Series East for Rev Racing and is also part of the NASCAR Next program that spotlights young talent in the sport.
With the win, Suárez becomes the first driver to concurrently lead two NASCAR series in points since Kyle Busch led the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series early in the 2009 season. At the touring series level, it hasn’t been done since recent NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Mike Stefanik won both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championships in 1998.
The NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series opens the 2014 season in Mexico on April 5 at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City.
RESULTS | LAP-BY-LAP RECAP | AUDIO: RACE WINNER DANIEL SUAREZ (ENGLISH) | AUDIO: RACE WINNER DANIEL SUAREZ (ESPAÑOL) | AUDIO: RUNNER-UP AND THIRD PLACE (ENGLISH) | AUDIO: RUNNER-UP AND THIRD PLACE (ESPAÑOL)
Daniel Suárez, front left, battles for the lead en route to winning the Toyota 120. Getty Images for NASCAR