NASCAR's first full-time Mexican driver, Daniel Suarez, sidestepped questions about whether he was offended by NASCAR CEO Brian France supporting controversial presidential candidate Donald Trump when asked Friday at Phoenix International Raceway.
Suarez instead stated how proud he is of his heritage, while admitting he doesn't have much interest in politics and wasn't aware of France's public endorsement of Trump until his public relations manager called him.
"All I can say about that is that I'm super proud to be Mexican, to be a Latin American driver in the United States," Suarez. "I'm very lucky to have a lot of support from the United States and from NASCAR in the past four years and what we've got for this year so far."
France, along with NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott and current drivers Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman and David Ragan, appeared at a Trump campaign rally last month at Valdosta (Ga.) State University. During the appearance France spoke and declared his support of Trump's bid to win the presidency.
Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, but his campaign has been shrouded in controversy with the business mogul making frequent offensive remarks including calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, advocating and vowing to deport all people living illegally within the United States and saying the United States should temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.
NASCAR released a statement following France's appearance at the Feb. 29 rally, saying the endorsement was a "private personal decision by Brian." But because France's grandfather founded NASCAR and the company remains family-owned with France as its chief policy-maker and spokesperson, the support was viewed as NASCAR obliquely supporting Trump as well.
France clarified his backing of Trump in an interview with the Associated Press this week, saying he doesn't support Trump "for all of his views, or his immigration views" and that he was "surprised" that some questioned his initiatives on diversity.
Suarez is a graduate of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, an initiative started by France in 2004 that encourages and trains minorities and women to participate in the sport. The 24-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico, has emerged as one of NASCAR's rising stars, winning Rookie of the Year honors in NASCAR's No. 2 division last season and presently atop the Xfinity Series point standings.
"Who knows, without being Mexican [if] I wouldn't be here right now because it's been unbelievable the support I've had from NASCAR through the ‘Drive for Diversity' program and all of these programs to put myself in the right position to get opportunity that I have right now," Suarez said. "I'm very proud to be Mexican and whatever is going on with the politics that doesn't change anything."