It was only natural that Daniel Suárez took a liking to soccer. He grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, and all of his best friends played the game. Their access to the sport was rather easy — a soccer ball and an open field that sat by his home.
But as he grew older, Suárez realized that soccer was no longer his favorite sport. He was a rarity among his friends, gravitating toward auto racing instead.
Years later, he’s a rarity among his peers — the only Mexican-born driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
But on Wednesday he partook in an event that reminded him of the earlier years, an event that he acknowledged would likely make his friends back home quite jealous — a professional soccer practice.
While in town to help promote the Hollywood Casino 400, which is scheduled for Oct. 22 at Kansas Speedway, Suárez stopped by Sporting Kansas City’s practice. After a rainy training session, he stayed after and juggled the soccer ball with a few players.
“Soccer is huge where I’m from. If you want to play something, the first thing you play is soccer,” said Suárez, 25. “That’s all we used to do.”
These days, Suárez is one of the faces of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. On Wednesday, as he stood in front of a contingent of reporters, he was asked about his status as the Cup Series’ only Mexican driver.
He’s proud of it, he responded. But the truth, he added, is that he hopes to make a name for himself beyond that factoid.
And he appears to be on his way. In his first season in the Cup Series after replacing the retired Carl Edwards, Suárez trails Erik Jones by only 12 points in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. Suárez has 11 top-10 finishes in 2017.
“Most of the teams, they were expecting me as a rookie to wreck every race and to do a lot of not very smart things,” Suárez said. “For us, it’s been a smooth year. We’ve been consistent, strong and getting better every week.”
To that end, Suárez has seven of those top-10 finishes in the last 11 races after he collected just four in his first 18 events. He was eighth last week at Dover International Speedway.
“We have exceeded expectations, but it’s never enough. We always want more,” he said. “We’re competitive. We’ve been much more consistently lately. Hopefully we can keep that up.”
His team will make a trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday before stopping at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 15.
Then it’s on to Kansas Speedway. Suárez has raced here only once since rising to the Cup Series, but it was enough to provide a comfort level. He placed seventh at the Go Bowling 400 in May.
“It’s a very fast racetrack. You can carry a lot of speed here,” he said. “We have a good package for this kind of racetrack. I just hope we can repeat the success we had here (in May).”