Race Weekend Central

XFINITY Breakdown: Suarez Secures First Victory at Michigan

Daniel Suarez had been knocking on the door of the XFINITY Series victory lane for nearly a year. On Saturday at Michigan International Speedway, Suarez broke down the door and finally scored his first win by running down and passing teammate Kyle Busch in the closing laps of the Menards 250 presented by Valvoline. Suarez pulled ahead of Busch as the two drivers took the white flag, racing side by side until Suarez completed the pass at the exit of turn two.

“I just have no words,” a jubilant Suarez said in victory lane. “I don’t think I can speak English or Spanish right now, honestly…  This machine is unbelievable. It was unbelievably fast.”

Suarez indeed had one of the fastest cars in the Irish Hills, but going a little too fast on pit road on lap 29 nearly cost Suarez his chance at victory. NASCAR issued a speeding penalty to the No. 19 team, forcing Suarez to restart at the back of the field for the lap 33 restart following the race’s first caution. Suarez steadily worked his way forward for the rest of the afternoon, breaking back into the top ten on lap 56. He led two laps during a green flag pit stop cycle and returned to the top five for good with 20 laps to go. Suarez took over second place ten laps later and slowly reeled in Busch over the closing laps.

Busch was the most dominant driver of the afternoon, but he did not immediately drive to the front of the pack. After drifting out of the top 10 in the opening laps, Busch advanced through the field until the race’s first caution on lap 28 for debris. Busch took over the lead following a two tire pit stop. He would lead 88 of 125 laps, but he was unable to hold off Suarez at the finish.

“You never want to get beat, but it’s cool when you get beat fair and square,” Busch said. “(Suarez) did a really great job; he ran me down and had a really good car there at the end and passed us clean, did everything he needed to do. So congratulations to Daniel Suarez, that’s pretty awesome to get his first win here and to beat us, beat a car like us and a guy like me. The Kyle Busch school of charm finished 1-2-4 today, so not too bad.”

Suarez’s win makes him just the third XFINITY Series regular to reach victory lane in 2016. The win virtually guarantees Suarez a spot in the Chase with fellow victors Elliott Sadler (who finished fifth at Michigan) and two time winner Erik Jones (who finished fourth).

(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)
The race was an emotional ones for Jones as his father passed away last Tuesday after battling cancer. (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

Jones honored his father Dave, who passed away this week after a battle with cancer, by placing his name over the driver side window.  Suarez dedicated his victory to Jones’ father.

Suarez also maintains the XFINITY Series points lead halfway to the Chase. Sadler is 18 points behind Suarez in second, with Ty Dillon an additional 18 points in third behind Sadler.

The Good

 Both Jones and Sadler had impressive races en route to top-five finishes. Jones led for a total of 18 laps on Saturday, mostly early on in the race. On-board cameras caught smoke in the cockpit of the No. 20 on lap 16, but it was never a big issue for Jones. He went on to score his eighth top ten finish of the season. Meanwhile, Sadler ran in the top five throughout the race. His late race battle with Paul Menard was some of the best on track action of the afternoon. Sadler now has 11 top tens in 13 starts.

Alex Bowman also had another great performance driving the No. 88 car for JR Motorsports. Bowman started on the pole and led the opening 11 laps of the race. His seventh-place finish was his third top ten in as many starts this season.

The Bad

Dillon had a long day piloting the No. 3 car for Richard Childress Racing. He reported on lap 26 that the air cooling system in his helmet was broken, making an already scorching day even hotter for Dillon. It did not help matters that Dillon struggled to stay with the front runners. The team made a fuel only pit stop on lap 82 in an effort to gain some track position, but Dillon had slid back to 15th by the time the checkered flag fell. Still seeking his first XFINITY win of the year, Dillon will hope for better luck in the Sprint Cup race on Sunday.

The Ugly

Chris Cockrum cannot catch a break. In his first NXS race after a hard crash at Talladega, Cockrum went sliding through turn two on lap 87 and backed his No. 25 Chevy into the wall, bringing out the race’s third and final caution. Cockrum’s crash was the only accident of the afternoon, leaving him with a 32nd-place finish.

Underdog Performance of the Race

 A week after his run-in with Ryan Reed, Ryan Sieg had a drama-free race. He qualified tenth and ran within the top ten during the opening run of the race, even battling Busch for position on lap 20. Sieg’s 12th -place finish leaves him 12th in points, 16 markers ahead of Ross Chastain for the final Chase spot.

Double Duty Interlopers

 With Josh Wise and Matt Dibenedetto exiting the race early, Busch, Menard, and Joey Logano were left to challenge the XFINITY Series regulars. Menard’s third-place effort in the No. 2 car was his best finish of the season in four starts.

“The car didn’t fire off very good, but it had really good long run speed,” Menard said.  “I was just too loose that whole last run. I’m really proud of my guys; we’re close, we’re knocking on the door. We’ll get a win this year.”

Logano was not as pleased with his sixth-place finish. The No. 22 car ran in the back half of the top ten throughout the race, but Logano struggled to move any further forward.

“I don’t think we did anything good,” Logano said after the race.  “Our car wasn’t everything we expected it to be.  We finally got decent balance at the end, but we still weren’t very fast.”

Quotable

 “These cars are hot.  We talked about it last year at Indy, I was smoked after that one and was able to go on the next day and win the Brickyard.” –- Kyle Busch on the XFINITY cars and the hot conditions in Michigan, finished second

“I had to go for it, man.  The boss is up there watching me and I gotta put on a show for him.” —  Elliott Sadler on his late race battle with the leaders, finished third  — Sadler’s team owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr,. was in the booth as an analyst for the FS1 broadcast.

“It’s fun to come here and get a solid finish.  (I’m) a little tired.  Thanks to the girlfriend for forcing me to drink water this weekend; she’s been on my butt about it.” – Darrell Wallace Jr., finished ninth

(Photo: Brett Moist / NKP)
Brandon Jones was happy with his 10th-place result. (Photo: Brett Moist / NKP)

“I feel like we had a pretty good car in practice (and) all day long, didn’t think we would end up tenth right there, but a seventh top ten for the season (for us), so awesome job for our Nexteer guys this weekend.” – Brandon Jones, finished 10th

“I’m glad I had a solid, top 15 day.  (We’re) still in the Chase, so it was a good points day.” – Blake Koch, finished 13th

The Final

Emotion. There was no doubt that Suarez really was at a loss for words after his first XFINITY win. It has been clear for a while that Suarez would visit victory lane sooner or later, especially after such a strong finish to the 2015 season. This season, however, has been so full of near misses for the Monterrey, Mexico native that the first win was going to be big, whenever and wherever it happened.  Throw in the fact that Suarez overcame an early race mistake and defeated the seemingly invincible Busch in the closing laps, the No. 19 team put together a race that is well worth the celebration.

There is nothing to suggest, though, that the balance of power has really changed in the XFINITY Series. The Joe Gibbs Racing cars remain the fastest in the XFINITY field, with all three claiming top five finishes. Suarez was on his way to the Chase with or without a win, and Jones punched his ticket several weeks ago. The JR Motorsports cars are not far behind, but still have work to do to catch JGR. As for Richard Childress Racing, their strongest entry continues to be the No. 2, a ride usually occupied by a Sprint Cup driver.  Meanwhile, Ford remains completely shut out of victory lane.

Jones and Suarez have undoubtedly been the fastest XFINITY regulars week in and week out. Can they keep it up? Will any of the Chevy teams find the right combination of speed and consistency to challenge JGR? When will Ford finally break through? Can any other XFINITY regulars reach victory lane?  Those will be the big questions throughout the second half of the regular season.

Up Next

 The XFINITY Series gets NASCAR’s top billing on Fathers’ Day, Sunday June 19th, with the American Ethanol E15 250 at Iowa Speedway. Race coverage begins at 1:30 PM Eastern on Fox Sports 1.

 

About the author

Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past six years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and aspiring motorsports historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southwest Florida.

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