Pole, most laps led and a race victory. Daniel Suarez had it all Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win his first XFINITY Series championship in his second season.
Steering clear of an off-the-pace Cole Whitt, whose TriStar Motorsports team decided not to pit under the final caution, Suarez held off Ty Dillon to win the race and the title in his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
“All the hard work definitely paid off tonight,” Suarez said. “To win here in Homestead and to have a lot of fans from all of Latin America is great for me. I have my mom, dad, my family from Houston, friends from Mexico. I am excited about it.”
Hailing from Monterrey, Mexico, the 24-year-old becomes the first foreign-born driver to win a national NASCAR championship, doing so with three wins and a season-high 19 top-5 finishes in 2016.
“What a better way to finish this way,” he said. “I’m very proud of my team, everyone who has been helping me to be in this position. It’s still hard to believe this.”
Behind the champion were a few unhappy customers who came up short of their first series championships.
In a night where all four championship drivers – Suarez, Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Erik Jones – ran up front in the 300-mile event, it only took Whitt’s No. 14 to shake up the order with three laps to go.
Jones, who restarted fourth behind Whitt, was a victim of a wheel-spin from Whitt, which stacked up the outside lane and ended Jones’ shot at teammate Suarez.
“I don’t know what was going on there,” Jones said. “Either way, it’s unfortunate. We did a really nice job to have a shot. I hope I get a chance to talk to [Whitt], I don’t know what he’s thinking. That was pretty down-low right there, not a lot of respect shown there.”
Mirroring his thoughts, Sadler restarted second in line and was unable to pounce on the restart with fears of beating Whitt to the restart box.
“I made a mistake on the restart,” Sadler said. “He didn’t go and I was a little timid and I let Suarez get around us. Congratulations to Daniel, he did a great job on that restart.”
Completing the slew of disappointed Chase drivers, Justin Allgaier put up quite the fight to contend with Suarez, who led a race-high 133 laps nearly from the drop of the green flag.
Passing the No. 19 with 49 laps to go, the clean air only lasted six laps before Suarez and Jones made their ways back to the front.
Despite the heartbreak for the first-year JR Motorsports driver, Allgaier and family kept their heads high following the best season of his NASCAR career.
“I think the cool part of all of this is that JRM had two shots at winning the championship this year,” he said. “One thing we don’t lack is heart – we’ve all gotten along so well this season that you kind of forget that we had a great season. It’s just been fun.”
Completing the top 5 was Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon, Cup regulars who failed to truly contend for the win. Allgaier, Kyle Larson, Brendan Gaughan Erik Jones and Aric Almirola finished the top 10.
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