After a number of successful NASCAR Nationwide Series races, Puerto Rican driver Victor Gonzalez Jr. will be making his Sprint Cup Series debut in the No. 36 car for Tommy Baldwin Racing during the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. Gonzalez will also run the Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen later in the season.
The young driver has never had the opportunity to race in quality equipment at the Nationwide Series level, but did run both the Nationwide Series road course races last year with championship winning crew chief Scott Zipadelli.
Gonzalez does offer some consistency, however, that owner Tommy Baldwin has never been able to find at road courses, despite recruiting road course veteran Tomy Drissi to pilot his second car last year. Drissi struggled the entire weekend, qualifying 41st and finishing 38th after crashing out on lap 78. Baldwin’s main driver Dave Blaney did not fare much better finishing 37th.
Both cars failed to finish at Watkins Glen as well last year. Tommy Baldwin Racing has entered seven road course races at the Sprint Cup level, and finished only once. Gonzalez has proven in the Nationwide Series that he can not only survive stock car road course races, but thrive and be competitive.
During the 2012 Nationwide Series season, Gonzalez finished in the top 20 both of his races for RAB Racing. The year before that, Gonzalez ran four races, finishing three of them and running his first career oval race at Phoenix International Raceway. Gonzalez’s best career finish came in 2009 at Montreal in a car owned by Wayne Day. As a relative unknown, Gonzalez finished 14th in his Nationwide Series debut, establishing he was a driver that deserved an opportunity.
Obviously, there is the additional benefit of Gonzalez’s marketability. The Puerto Rican will become the first driver from the Caribbean to race at the Sprint Cup Series level. NASCAR must understand that they still currently struggle to attract the Spanish speaking demographic that sports leagues strive for. The current solution includes a NASCAR supported soap opera on Spanish network Univision, which when read sounds like a laughable ploy.
National pride is an incredibly powerful thing. Success with the Spanish speaking audience will come with success. Currently, there are four Spanish speaking drivers in Formula 1, and NASCAR can easily increase its international fanbase along with its Latino fanbase in the United States if Gonzalez has a strong run and receives TV coverage.
Victor Gonzalez has done everything right so far, and has earned an opportunity to alter his career path drastically. With an unproven team and car, a majority of the teams result will hinge on the unproven Puerto Rican driver. When the teams hit the track in June, fans should pay attention to the No. 36 car. The driver may still be unknown, but his background and talent won’t be for long.
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