For Daniel Suárez, driver of the No. 96 Toyota Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) in the NASCAR Cup Series, Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn will forever be the place where winning on the national stage began.
The 28-year-old native of Monterrey, Mexico, who’s in his fourth full Cup Series campaign and first with the single-car GBR team, made history on the lightning-fast, 2-mile Michigan oval in the June 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series race with his next-to-last-lap pass of then-Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota teammate Kyle Busch, then driving away for the first win by a Mexican-born driver in a NASCAR national series event.
The victory prompted an emotional celebration by Suárez and his team, and led Busch to declare in his postrace commentary, “Student beat teacher today.” It also springboarded Suárez’s run to that year’s Xfinity Series championship as he went on to win twice more in dominating fashion – in October at Dover (Del.) International Speedway and from the pole in November’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway – in becoming the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR national series title.
Suárez returns to the Irish Hills of Michigan this weekend for a pair of Cup Series races that make up the second of three Saturday-Sunday doubleheaders on the 2020 schedule. He and his relatively young, single-car team posted finishes of 28th and 26th in the previous doubleheader June 27 and 28 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway and look to take another step forward in their development effort with a pair of stronger outings this weekend. They’re coming off last Sunday’s 26th-place finish on the mile oval at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon that fell one spot short of their seventh top-25 of the season.
Last year’s two visits to Michigan netted Suárez’s best finishes in six previous Cup Series outings at the track. He drove his Stewart-Haas Racing entry to a pair of top-fives – fourth in the June race and fifth in the August race.
It will be that pair of solid Cup Series finishes last year, and that memory of a lifetime prompted by his historic Xfinity Series victory in 2016, that will no doubt be riding along with Suárez in spirit as he and his GBR teammates navigate their way through this weekend’s pair of 312-mile races – Saturday’s Firekeepers Casino 400 and Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400.