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Mexican driver Daniel Suarez carries the weight of expectations in NASCAR

Mexico's Daniel Suarez was last year's NASCAR Rookie of the Year in the Xfinity Series. Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Suarez dreams big as the first-ever full-time NASCAR driver from Mexico. Perhaps he can transform Victory Lane from the traditional red, white and blue into a celebration of green, white and red, but for that to happen, he first must complete a journey that took him further than even he dared to dream when he was just a go-kart enthusiast racing for fun in his native Monterrey.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most popular driver in the United States, and Danica Patrick proudly represents women, but Mexican racing fans hope Suárez can become the first NASCAR campeón in America.

Suarez looks up to legends such as Earnhardt Jr. and Richard Petty, but as he told One Nación in an interview in Spanish at Daytona recently, he wants to prove his abilities on the track soon. He is aggressive and goal-driven, he has the mentality of a champion, and he strives to leave his own stamp on NASCAR.

“Siempre hay algo a lo que apuntar. Si ganaste un campeonato, vas a querer otro. Si ganaste dos, vas a buscar ser tricampeón, y cuando logras eso vas a querer otro. Esa es la mentalidad que hay que tener como una persona que tiene hambre de hacer las cosas y conseguir cosas importantes”.

"There is always something to strive for. If you have won a championship, you want to win another one. If you've won two, you aim for three, and then you go for more. That is the mentality I have to have as a person hungry to achieve important things." Suarez said, a day before qualifying second in the Daytona Powershares QQQ 300 XFINITY Series race.

Suarez, unlike Earnhardt and Petty, doesn’t come from a racing background. His family isn’t NASCAR royalty. In fact, his mother was a housewife who took care of his two siblings while his father owned a car repair shop and supported his son's dream of becoming a professional driver before Daniel moved to the United States on his own four years ago.

Suarez relied on his family for support off the track, but he needed a mentor on it as well. Kyle Busch saw promise in him and took him under his wing last year, even as Busch himself became the current NASCAR champion.

"[Busch] has helped me so much in every single aspect since last year so I could learn faster. He taught me many details about his various experiences in different tracks through the years as he learned from his own mistakes. ... If you can have a friend like that who wants to help you, you have to appreciate it," Suarez said.

This seemingly unlikely friendship between the young driver from Mexico and the veteran champion from Las Vegas only came about thanks to the confidence of Suarez, who was eager to learn from one of the best in the sport.

“I approached him innocently and started asking him stuff," Suarez said. “I didn't know if I could or not, but I started to ask him anyway, and he has been immensely helpful to help me get to this point."

Suarez admires and respects Busch but, just like any pupil, he aspires to surpass his master someday. He was close to doing so last year, but instead he learned a valuable lesson while racing alongside Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, at the VFW Sports Clips in Indianapolis.

"[Busch] was in the lead and I was second, but I passed him at one point. However, he ended up winning the race and I finished third," Suarez said about the race that netted him a $100,000 prize and an unforgettable memory.

"Busch has told me personally that he knows I am going to want to beat him in one, two or three years. After the race, he joked with me and told me, 'I am going to have to stop helping you, you are learning to be fast!'" Suarez said.

The world of NASCAR is slowly presenting Suarez to the spotlight, and he welcomes every part of an experience that feels like a dream come true. In the meantime, he starts his engine and looks straight ahead with ambition and hope.