The NASCAR XFINITY Series season is over and Joe Gibbs Racing driver Daniel Suarez has been crowned the 2016 champion.
Let that sink in a bit. Suarez is the XFINITY Series champion. Not Elliott Sadler or Erik Jones, both of whom had stellar seasons and were considered the odds-on favorites to emerge at the top of the Championship Four. It was Suarez who hoisted the series trophy on the frontstretch when the race was over.
It’s a championship story that NASCAR needed. Try as they might, diversity in NASCAR pales to other popular motorsports even though they have the NASCAR Drive For Diversity campaign. Suarez, a graduate of the program, isn’t the first minority to win a race in a national touring division, but he is the first to score a championship. In NASCAR’s 60-plus year history, that should say something about ethnicity in the sport.
It’s not for lack of trying, though. There have been many different races, creeds, religions, and genders to come through NASCAR over the years. Many have succeeded, and many have failed. XFINITY Series driver Darrell Wallace Jr., who is half black, has been successful behind the wheel in his brief NASCAR career, while Kyle Larson, who is half Japanese, has won in the Camping World Truck Series, XFINITY Series, and the Sprint Cup Series. But it hasn’t always been like that as former drivers, including Marc Davis and Paulie Harraka, have had their careers stall.
So to see Suarez win a major NASCAR championship is a validating accomplishment in motorsports, something that shows the rest of the world that this is something that anyone can succeed in if they put forth the effort and earn the right breaks. To the uninformed, NASCAR has been stereotyped as an all-white, all-male sport. Once upon a time that was the case. But in this day and age, the sport has worked hard to be seen as progressive and evolving, and Saturday night’s Ford 300 was a huge payoff.
There’s still naysayers; just take a look at Twitter and Facebook to see the amount of hate this championship win has garnered. But the good outweighs the bad as many people have taken to social media to send congratulations to the Monterrey, Mexico native. This was a popular championship win in many ways, not only because of Suarez’s quiet, humble nature but also because of what this means for the sport.
Whenever a woman comes into the sport, or someone of a different race or nationality, much is made about it. That goes double if they’ve even had some degree of success. Wallace has won several times in the CWTS. Israeli native Alon Day has had success in the NASCAR Euro Series. Danica Patrick is the only woman to date to have won an IndyCar event.
But if we keep on seeing more drivers from all over coming in and doing what Suarez did, then there will be a day when a driver stops being noticed for being different from the normal status quo and will instead be noted for their driving ability. When that day comes then NASCAR will finally be seen as the amazing sport it truly is.