Daniel Suarez took the checkered flag to win the Ford EcoBoost 300 on Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway as well as his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.
Suarez led 133 of 200 laps, and the 24-year-old Mexico native made history by becoming the first driver born outside the United States to win a major NASCAR championship, according to Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press.
Here is a rundown of the top 10 finishers:
|Ford EcoBoost 300 Results|
Suarez beat Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier and Erik Jones to win his first NASCAR Xfinity Series Chase.
The following is a look at the final standings for the Championship 4:
|Final NASCAR Xfinity Series Standings|
All four title contenders qualified inside the top seven Saturday, but their days started differently. Suarez and Allgaier immediately put themselves in the mix, while Jones and Sadler struggled.
As seen in the following GIF, courtesy of the Xfinity Series, Jones and Sadler incurred damage after making contact with each other in the opening laps:
Jones experienced plenty of ups and downs during the 2016 campaign, but it was clear he was frustrated by his early misfortune, according to Lee Spencer of Motorsport.com:
Suarez led the first 22 laps as the pole-sitter until a caution came out when Ryan Reed lost control of his car and spun into the grass, as the Xfinity Series showed:
Kyle Larson assumed the lead after the pit stops, as Suarez's crew struggled with his rear-right tire, via the Xfinity Series:
It wasn't long before Suarez worked his way back to the front of the field, though, as he made a slick move to pass both Allgaier and Larson for first on Lap 36, as the Xfinity Series showed:
That put Suarez in firm control, as he went on to lead 44 consecutive laps and pace the rest of the championship contenders.
Among those was Sadler, who was on the brink of the top 10 for much of the first half of the race and couldn't find a setup he was comfortable with, per Spencer:
Suarez's closest competitor during his lengthy lead was Allgaier, who stayed close and nearly took first place away on several occasions.
His risky strategy of staying high on the track cost him, though, when he hit the wall and dropped back a few spots, as the Xfinity Series showed:
Most of the top cars pitted on Lap 80, which again proved to be detrimental for Suarez, who lost track position as Larson assumed the lead.
Ty Dillon managed to nab the lead after Larson hit the wall and lost momentum, but it was short-lived thanks to the hard-charging Suarez, who got back to the front at the midway point, via the Xinity Series:
The frustration continued for Jones and Sadler, who were both running outside the top 10 at that juncture.
Per Kelly Crandall of NASCAR on NBC, Jones' team made an effort to prevent the 20-year-old from losing his cool despite his struggles:
Suarez surrendered the lead back to Dillon, but pit stops following a yellow flag on the 124th lap worked out in Suarez's favor, as he managed to retake the lead ahead of Dillon in second and Allgaier in third.
With Allgaier attempting to chase down Suarez for the lead, the fifth caution of the day came out on Lap 136, when Reed spun out and other cars got involved, resulting in Jordan Anderson's No. 46 car bursting into flames, via the Xfinity Series:
The field was halted by a red flag, which set the stage for a battle to the finish with just over 60 laps remaining.
The complexion of the race changed shortly after the restart, as Jones and Sadler worked their way to the front behind Suarez and Allgaier, which resulted in all four championship contenders running in the top four with just 50 laps to go, as the Xfinity Series showed:
With the pressure on Suarez, he surrendered the lead on Lap 152 as Allgaier surged to the front, via the Xfinity Series:
Jones then passed Suarez as well, making his move and attempting to seize the lead from Allgaier despite struggling for most of the day.
Jones got by Allgaier with 43 laps remaining, and a caution flag came out a couple of laps later because of debris on the track.
Following yellow-flag pit stops, Suarez, Allgaier and Jones lined up in third, fourth and fifth, respectively, behind Aric Almirola and Ryan Blaney, who stayed on the track, while Sadler restarted in 16th.
Almirola and Blaney were shuffled back quickly as Suarez, Allgaier and Jones seized the top three spots in order after the restart, via the Xfinity Series:
Suarez opened up a big lead, with Allgaier and Jones battling each other for second. Although Allgaier held the No. 2 spot for several laps, he made contact with the wall with just 20 laps remaining, which allowed Jones to assume second and take aim at Suarez, as the Xfinity Series showed:
With Jones stalking Suarez and closing in on first place, Ray Black Jr. spun out with 10 laps left to bring out a yellow flag, adding more drama to the race.
All four Chase cars pitted.
But Sadler took just two tires, while Suarez, Jones and Allgaier took four. That put him in second place behind only Cole Whitt, who stayed out.
Behind Sadler were Suarez in third, Jones in fourth and Allgaier in sixth, which set up a championship sprint to the finish.
Whitt's old tires created chaos on the restart as Jones and Allgaier got held up, while Suarez shot past Sadler for a lead he never relinquished, via the Xfinity Series:
Alan Cavanna of Fox Sports was critical of Whitt's team's decision to stay on the track because of the impact it had on the finish:
Kevin Harvick's crew chief, Rodney Childers, agreed but was complimentary of Suarez and his accomplishment:
With the victory, Suarez further established himself as one of the top prospects in NASCAR and may have opened the door for future foreign drivers in the process.
While Jones has already secured a full-time Sprint Cup ride for 2017, it seems like only a matter of time before Suarez joins him in NASCAR's top series.
The young star power in NASCAR is as impressive as ever, and Suarez proved Saturday he is capable of spearheading the youth movement.
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