When Daniel Suarez was young, he never could have thought about driving in NASCAR.
Racing had its fans in his home of Monterrey, Mexico, but mostly it was for more of the internationally popular variants of the sport, like IndyCar or Formula One. He didnât really know anything about NASCAR until he was 15 or 16, about four or five years after he first began kart racing at 11.
âNASCAR was getting stronger and stronger in Mexico, and I got opportunities to race ovals,â Suarez said Monday. âI started racing ovals in Mexico and then eventually NASCAR Mexico, and then eventually I got the opportunity to move to the U.S.â
A decade has passed since he first started paying attention to NASCAR, and his unique origins have made Suarez into a history-making driver in the sport. He won the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2016, becoming the first Hispanic driver to win a NASCAR series title.
The year before, he became the first Mexican driver to win the Xfinity Seriesâ Rookie of the Year award. Heâs now a staple on the NASCAR Cup series and finished just four points out of a playoff spot this season, which concludes next month with the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Miami.
Even though he wonât be racing for a championship in the final three weekends of the season, these final races are important to him for another reason. At the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday, Suarez expects about 1,000 Latino fans to be in attendance to root for Suarez in Fort Worth, Texas, as part of âDanielâs Amigos,â an initiative started to build fan interest in the Latin-American community.
âItâs really cool to see a lot of support from a lot of people,â said Suarez, who drives the No. 41 Walmart Family Mobile Ford Mustang for Stewart-Hass Racing, âand to make them fans of the sport is something very special.â
The idea for Danielâs Amigos has been brewing since Suarez started racing in NASCAR but finally went into place this year, with support from NASCAR and Coca-Cola.
In March, the first meet-up happened in Fontana, California. Suarez brought out more than 500 Latino fans to watch the Auto Club 400. In September, he held another meet-up at the South Point 400 and brought out hundreds more fans in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The race Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway will be the biggest moment yet for his initiative. Suarez is building a career of firsts, and he hopes it wonât also be a career of lasts in a sport, which has long struggled to attract a diverse audience but has made major strides this century.
The pitch NASCAR often makes to potential fans is just a plea to come to a race in person because the in-person experience is so different than watching on TV. Itâs the central idea of Danielâs Amigos, who come out and turn their own section of the grandstand into a soccer-style cheering section. As Year 1 nears its end, Suarez considers it a â100 percentâ success.
âFor years, I had an idea of trying to bring Latinos to the racetrack and put everything together â letâs say 100 fans together â to get them to the racetrack, to give them a unique experience, to have a Q&A with them, to give them something cool, something special and thatâs exactly what I was able to do,â Suarez said. âThe most amazing part is that everything is growing, so Iâm very, very proud to be part of this, and I feel like weâre moving the needle. We have many different entry points that we are working on to try to make things better.â