BROOKLYN, Mich. – Daniel Suarez was speechless — and justifiably so.
The Mexican driver had just passed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch for the lead on the next-to-last lap and held on to win Saturday’s Menards 250 presented by Valvoline NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Michigan International Speedway by .280 seconds over the man who sets the standard in the series.
The first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR national series race, Suarez overcame a pit road speeding penalty assessed on Lap 29 of 125 under the first of three cautions. He restarted eighth after the third caution on Lap 91, caught and passed Elliott Sadler for second place with 10 laps left and ran down Busch for the lead on Lap 124.
"I just have no words," said Suarez, an alumnus of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next programs. "I don’t think I can speak English or Spanish right now. I have no words for what I’m feeling right now.
"This machine is unbelievable. It’s unbelievably fast — definitely the fastest car out there. I have no words to describe what I’m feeling right now. It’s just unbelievable."
Though Suarez was reveling in the moment, he made special mention of JGR teammate and fourth-place finisher Erik Jones, whose father passed away at age 53 on Tuesday after a brief battle with cancer. Erik’s No. 20 Toyota carried the name of his father, Dave Jones, painted above the window of his car.
"I would like to dedicate this victory to Erik and his family," Suarez said.
Behind Suarez and Busch, Paul Menard finished third, followed by Jones and Sadler.
In passing Busch for the win, Suarez beat the best. Busch holds the XFINITY Series record for victories with 80. And Busch has been a willing mentor to Suarez, who also drives a limited schedule for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
"The Kyle Busch School of Charm finished 1-2-4 today, so not too bad," said Busch, who led 88 laps. "Obviously we want to win. We thought we should have won. We had the best car for the majority of the race there, but not the last 20 laps or so—just got really loose on me.
"But congratulations to Daniel Suarez. He earned that one. It’s cool to see. It’s a little bittersweet to lose like that, but it’s all right. It’s one of my students. So the student beat the teacher today."
The speeding penalty wasn’t the only obstacle Suarez had to overcome. As he was working his way back to the front after the infraction, the clutch in his No. 19 Toyota failed, causing the car to stall during a green-flag pit stop on Lap 71.
"In the second half of the race, the clutch was gone," said Suarez, who increased his lead in the series standings to 18 points over Sadler.
Fortunately for Suarez, the clutch wasn’t an issue over the final 33 laps as he chased and ultimately overtook Busch.
"He made a statement today that he’s the real deal," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who served as a guest commentator on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast. "I think a lot of people knew that, but if they didn’t, they found out today."