We all know what happened. Sunday June 12, 2022, Daniel Suárez became a winner in the NASCAR Cup Series. Winning the Toyota Save Mart 350 by 3.8 seconds over Chris Buescher, of all people, the driver of the Trackhouse Racing No. 99 became the first Mexican winner in Cup Series history – doing so at the same track which, fifteen years ago, Colombian ex-F1 star Juan Pablo Montoya became the Cup Series’ first Latin American winner. Leading the final 26 circuits of the 1.99-mile Sonoma Raceway, Suárez’s win brought a triumphant end to a six-year story of towering expectations, endless struggle, and devastating near misses. As he climbed from his Camaro in the late afternoon California sunlight, waving a flag that proclaimed “Win Numero Uno” in the national colors of Mexico, Daniel Suárez finally arrived.
In the years to come, it’s unlikely that anyone will remember that there was only a single competitive pass for the lead all day, when Suárez got past Buescher into turn 7 at the start of the final stage. Nobody, save the most die-hard Chase Elliott fans, will remember how the No. 9 was taken out of the fight for the lead by a pit road penalty. We will remember how cool it was to see a three-way fight for the win between Suárez, Buescher, and Michael McDowell, and how we felt when the No. 99 finally crossed the finish line.
The Toyota Save Mart 350 was devoid of much of the drama we’ve come to expect from NASCAR road racing. There was minimal contact throughout the field, only two cautions for cause, and nothing like the last-corner double bump and run that produced Ross Chastain’s first cup win at CoTA. But Jeff Gluck’s traditional post-race Twitter poll concluded with 66% of respondents declaring it a “good race.”
Can a good winner save a bad race? If your favorite driver wins, probably. And I doubt there’s a more widely liked driver across the industry and the fan base than Suárez. But it isn’t just about the winner. As I’ve been saying in my columns for weeks now: it’s the story.
Sure, most ‘boring’ races aren’t going to produce the most popular first-time winner in recent memory, but it would do FOX and NASCAR well to realize what made this race thrilling and memorable: the stakes were high. Of course, had Suárez not won on Sunday, sure he’d have had 10 more chances to win his way into the playoffs (my hot take: he’s going to win again before September). But for a driver who always seems to have something go wrong when he shows up with race-winning speed, it felt like he was racing against fate as much as he was racing Chris Buescher (again, Chris Buescher). Because of a story we all knew, how Suárez loaded all of his belongings into a Volkswagen and drove north to pursue his dream of racing in NASCAR, and how he’s struggled to find and maintain his place at the top of the Cup Series to showcase his talent, the fact there wasn’t a lead change was still exciting. I was on the edge of my seat for 40 laps despite the fact nothing happened.
For any driver, at any point in their career, winning a NASCAR race is a colossal achievement. From our perspective as fans, watching Joey Logano (or whoever) win for the umpteenth time is boring, particularly if the race for the lead wasn’t ultra-competitive and didn’t include any new names. But every Cup Series win is a big deal to the driver who earned it. It takes a particular brand of ultra-competitive madness to be a professional race car driver. None of these guys ever get bored of winning. The TV coverage needs to convey that urgency.
To its credit, NASCAR has already done its part. They’ve created a car that (issues with one-groove racetracks aside) produces good racing more often than not. Now, it’s up to the broadcast partners to raise the stakes of the story
That’s all they have to do. A reminder: being at the track, even for a boring race, is always awesome. I mean that in the literal sense of the word: the overwhelming qualities of NASCAR’s spectacular show make any old race feel like the most important ever: the speed of the cars, the sound of the engines, the energy of the crowd.
If FOX takes away one thing from last week (other than “keep Larry Mac in the booth!”) it should be that NASCAR is such an emotionally rich sport that even ‘boring’ races can be exciting television. Instead of forcing NASCAR to add ever more convolutions to the rules to make the finish exciting, the TV crews can tell a more engaging story with the product they have, to make the experience more compelling for die-hard and casual fans alike.
Just like I’ve been trying to tell you.
Featured Image from Daniel Suarez on Twitter