Daniel Suarez’s NASCAR Cup Series victory Sunday afternoon ticked off a lot of boxes on a few lists, racing #99 Onx Homes/Renu Chevrolet. It was his very first Cup win (in 195 starts,) he is the first driver from Mexico to win a Cup race, he is the fifth driver not from the United States to win in the Cup Series, he is the fourth first-time winner this season in the Cup Series, the 12th different winner this season, and so it goes. Suarez started eighth and led twice for 47 laps, more than any other of the six lap leaders. When he won, the cloud cover had finally dissipated, and he laid down a doughnut which added more clouds. Then he celebrated, as promised, by breaking a taco pinata (with his fist as he didn’t have the usual stick.)
Suarez is a product of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program, joining it in 2013. He credits it with starting his career.
This was the third victory this season for team owner Justin Marks, who has ties to the Bay Area. His other driver, Ross Chastain, won the road race at Circuit of the Americas and the oval at Talladega earlier this season in #1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet. This is a new team – Trackhouse Racing and Suarez’s crew chief is Travis Steven Mack.
Chris Buescher gave it his all, running hard in #17 Fifth Third Bank Ford but finished second after starting third. This is his first race after being sidelined last race from COVID. “What a way to return and come back to the race track, but I didn’t get the job done there at the end. I feel like we should have had the win and I didn’t get it. We were close, just needed more. I needed to make it happen on that restart and I didn’t.”
Third was Michael McDowell in the bright yellow #34 Love’s Travel Stop Ford, his best finish of ten at Sonoma. He ran hard all race, in second place for awhile. He’s stacking up the top ten finishes this year, the most in any year of his career. The finish moved him into the top 20 for points. Working with McDowell this weekend was local racer-sports car team owner Steve Cameron. “You have to run second, third, fourth, and fifth consistently to put yourself in a position to win a race and we were close today. We just needed a little more on the front end to challenge.”
Fourth was Kevin Harvick in #4 GEARWRENCH Ford. He got stage points in the second stage, and is 12 in the standings. Harvick wasn’t in Saturday’s playful mood after the race. “We had our minimum of once-a-week catastrophic failure on pit road and got back as far forward as we could, as usual. It is what it is, I guess. We didn’t finish where we should have.”
Fifth was Austin Cindric, who was the top Rookie, in #2 America’s Tire Ford. “I appreciate Jeremy (Bullins) and the Discount Tire team for believing in me with flipping the stages like we did when we probably could have taken a stage win and a bunch of stage points. We made a lot of adjustments and some bold decisions honestly, overnight.”
Two drivers, who are local and could be characterized as road-race ringers, had up and down days. AJ Allmendinger drove #16 Goldfish Casino Slots Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing. He qualified 16th but had to start from the rear due to unapproved adjustments. He worked his way through the field but had a spin and had to work back again. He finished 19th.
Joey Hand drove #15 Built Ford Proud Ford – with the car painted Ford Blue with signatures all over the hood of those who worked on the car. So instead of Hand’s name over the door, it was the crew chief’s name in that spot. Hand qualified 17th and finished 20th, his best finish in three Cup stars for Rick Ware Racing. Another local driver, Kent Stacey, was on hand to work with him.
Kyle Larson had the pole in #5 HendrickCars.com and led the first 26 laps and was the Stage 1 winner. True to his observation Saturday that no stage winner has won at Sonoma, Larson had pit stop strategy issues putting him back in the pack to work his way forward. Then in stage three, near the end of the race, after a pit stop, he lost his right front wheel and limped back to the pits for remedy. This will cost him more than a good finish – his crew chief and crew face penalties. Larson finished fifteenth, but he maintains seventh position in the standings.
Points leader Chase Elliott also had an up and down day in #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet. He started second but fell back. In stage 2, he led 26 laps, but in the last stage, he had to back up during pit stop to catch the loose wheel, and then his nose was out of the box which was a penalty. He finished eighth but didn’t lose his points lead, now 16 points ahead of Ross Chastain
Bubba Wallace had the worst day. His #23 DoorDash Toyota flamed out on Lap 9 and he retired. He was unhurt.
All cars passed through technical inspection and there were no issues.
Next week NASCAR is off and Suarez leaves Monday for a previously-planned visit to Mexico to visit his family, while his girlfriend, Ms. Piquet, will be going to Brazil to visit with her family, including her father, former F1 driver, Nelson Piquet.