By AMANDA VINCENT
Daniel Suarez claimed his first-career NASCAR Cup Series win Sunday in his 195th-career series race, the Toyota/Save Mart 350. The win was historic as it was the first for a Mexican driver in NASCAR’s top series.
“It’s a crazy day,” Suarez said. “I have so many thoughts in my head right now. I mean, it’s been a rough road. It’s been a rough journey in the Cup Series.”
Suarez’s win Sunday also was the third of the 2022 season for Trackhouse Racing in its second year of Cup Series competition and the first at the Cup level for crew chief for Travis Mack.
“These guys believe in me – Trackhouse Racing, Justin Marks (team co-owner), Ty Norris (Trackhouse Racing President). Everyone that helped me to get to this point. Alot of people in Mexico — Jay Morales, Carlos Slim. My family, they never give up on me. A lot of people did, but they didn’t,” Suarez said. “Just very happy we were able to make it work.”
Suarez dominated the second half of the 110-lap race after taking the lead from Chris Buescher on a lap-61 restart. Buescher finished second after challenging Suarez on and off in the final 50 laps of the race.
“This team did a great job and put a really fast Fifth Third Bank Mustang underneath me this weekend,” Buescher said. “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. But if we can keep getting cars like this, then a win will come. It was an awesome run, and I should be happy, but I am disappointed to be that close and not get it.”
Michael McDowell finished third, and Kevin Harvick was fourth. Team Penske drivers Austin Cindric and Ryan Blaney finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
Suarez’s Chevrolet was the only driver from outside the Ford camp inside the top-five at the checkered flag.
Suarez gave up the lead during the final cycle of pit stops on lap 83, but when the cycle completed during a caution that came out when the right-front wheel came off Kyle Larson’s car on lap 84, Suarez cycled back to the lead.
The Larson caution was the fourth and final caution of the race. The only other yellow flag for an on-track incident was the result of a blown engine for Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. on lap 10.
“Off weekend — that is what we need to reset,” Wallace said. “I guess the mustache needs to come off. Really, just biding our time. I was doing less shifting than I was doing in practice just trying to conserve some tire. Never had an overrev, never went the wrong way, and she just blew. I hate it. I hate it for our team. I hate it for all of our partners. We deserve to be finishing a lot better than we have been these last couple of months. Like you said, the hits keep coming. We’ve got to bounce back. There is nothing like some good adversity to pipe through to get us back where we need to be, but it’s just a bummer. TRD is the best. We will figure it out. We’re all scratching our heads trying to figure it out, but just an unfortunate end to our day.”
After starting on the pole for the fifth-straight race at Sonoma, defending event winner Larson led the entire 25-lap distance of the opening stage. He got off pit sequence from most of the other drivers by staying out until stage end while most of the competition short-pitted under green late in the stage.
When Larson, Kyle Busch and others pitted at the end of the stage, Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott inherited the race lead after running second to Larson for most of stage one. Busch and Larson, meanwhile, restarted outside the top-20.
Joey Logano won the 30-lap second stage at lap 55 after running second to Larson at the end of stage one and, again, staying out while most of his fellow-competitors pitted under green late in stage two.
Like Larson before him, Elliott dominated the 30-lap second stage, including recording the 100,000th mile led by Hendrick Motorsports in Cup Series competition on lap 49.
Both Elliott and Larson pitted under green late in in the second stage, Elliott giving up the lead to do so. Elliott’s team struggled, resulting in a slow stop. To make matters worse, he was penalized for pitting outside his pit box. Before the penalty, Elliott was eighth at the end of stage two.
With the round of pit stops completed after the completion of stage-two, Buescher was the race leader. Buescher originally was issued a penalty by NASCAR for removing equipment from the pit box, but after his team disputed the penalty, it was rescinded.
Suarez’s teammate Ross Chastain finished seventh. Hendrick teammates Elliott and William Byron were eighth and ninth. Buescher’s Roush Fenway Keselowski teammate and car co-owner Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-10.
Kurt Busch was the highest-finishing Toyota driver in 18th.