Daniel Suarez is something of a pioneer.
He’s not the first Mexican-born driver to race on the NASCAR circuit in the United States, but he is the first alumnus of both the NASCAR Next and Drive for Diversity programs to cross over from the NASCAR Mexico Series.
Suarez, 23, is a fast-racing star in the motorsports world, and he’s opening doors for other drivers to make a similar leap in the future.
“A lot of teams, drivers and a lot of my friends in Mexico, they can see us as a good example that we are doing something in the national series of NASCAR in the United States,” Suarez said. “I think we are kind of opening the doors for a lot of new up-and-coming drivers from Mexico and maybe even other countries.”
It’s a point of pride for Suarez, who was the 2010 Mexico Series rookie of the year and won 10 races with 34 top-10 finishes in four seasons on the circuit.
Suarez, a native of Monterrey, Mexico, signed with Joe Gibbs Racing last summer after making a name for himself at home and in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, where he finished third overall in 2013.
“Without (the Mexico) series, we don’t have the platform to try to make the step to the United States,” Suarez said. “A lot of people in Mexico came from road-course racing, like myself, and for us it’s more normal to race open wheel or go-kart racing or something like that and not NASCAR.
“Right now, thanks to all the support from NASCAR to the NASCAR Mexico Series, we have one more option. To be honest, right now it’s the best option. … Five years ago, six years ago, we didn’t have that door open 100 percent. It was there, but wasn’t 100 percent open.”
Now, Suarez drives full-time for Gibbs in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and also drives part-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series, which will run the Toyota Tundra 250 on Friday at Kansas Speedway.
“I feel lucky to be racing on this level in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and being able to race with a great organization and to represent my country of Mexico,” Suarez said. “At the end of the day, we just want to learn and be competitive.”
The Mexico Series has been a boon, because it allows drivers like Suarez — who started out at age 11 as a go-kart driver and won Mexico’s national karting championship in 2007 at age 15 — to get acclimated to NASCAR’s rules and procedures.
“(It’s) still a long way to go when you move to the States and you try to do something else in the national series,” Suarez said. “To answer your question, I feel like definitely it’s a good series to start and to learn everything about NASCAR.”
Suarez knows he’s become a standard-bearer for Mexican drivers in NASCAR, but he’s comfortable with that role despite the degree of pressure that comes with it.
“This is kind of good pressure,” Suarez said. “I like it actually. … We’re moving forward for ourselves and we’re moving forward to open doors for new, upcoming drivers like Ruben (Garcia) and new, young drivers that are doing well in Mexico as well. That’s a good thing.”
Suarez had the third-fastest practice time Thursday behind fellow rookies Cameron Hayley and Daniel Hemric. Suarez’s Gibbs teammate, Erik Jones, who will make his first start in the Sprint Cup Series during Saturday’s SpongeBob SquarePants 400, ran fourth in practice.
NASCAR canceled the initial practice session due to wet conditions, but drivers eventually were able to take the track Thursday for a 90-minute final practice session.