RELATED: See the champions celebrate in Miami
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Thankfulness for family remained a theme for two NASCAR champions Monday night. One for the strong racing upbringing in pastoral Wisconsin that has sustained him over the course of a veteran's career; the other for the family that encouraged a young star to leave his Mexican homeland to chase his racing dreams in America.
Both Daniel Suarez and Johnny Sauter were honored for their crowning accomplishments Monday in the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series awards gala at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. Their recognition came just days after each sealed their first NASCAR titles during Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Elliott Sadler (XFINITY) and Tyler Reddick (Trucks) received the Most Popular Driver Award for each series, graciously thanking fans and their teams for their support. Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 19 Toyota team (XFINITY) and Kyle Busch Motorsports' No. 9 Toyota operation (Trucks) were toasted with team owner championships.
Suarez entertained the packed ballroom with stories about the challenges of moving to the United States, learning to break the language barrier while becoming more adept with the nuances of racing and automotive skills. But Suarez also told the crowd about coming of age and becoming more independent in his life in America while his family cheered from afar back home.
Saturday, his parents were both at the track for the first time ever to watch him race in the USA. But the gravity of his victory resonated beyond international borders, with Suarez receiving a congratulatory tweet from the president of Mexico as part of the overwhelming reaction.
"It really means a lot. As you guys can imagine, it was really a huge deal in Mexico and Latin America," Suarez said after his speech. "Everyone was super, super excited about what happened. It was something historic. It was just something that a lot of people were waiting for and finally we got it done. It was something really cool. I'm ready to come back to Mexico and celebrate with some of my friends down there that didn't get an opportunity to come to my race here in Homestead. I'm just very, very blessed."
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Sauter's family -- with four decades of experience racing in NASCAR -- was top of mind in the first-time truck champion's remarks. After sealing the title in Friday night's finale, Sauter indicated over the team radio on the cool-down lap that he was dreading having to give a season-ending speech. Much like he did on the track, he performed admirably in what he termed a "pressure deal."
Sauter enjoyed a career rebirth by assembling a title run in his first year with GMS Racing. After Monday's celebration, the 38-year-old driver said he was eager to keep the momentum rolling.
"I've got to be honest with you, I thought that winning a championship would make me feel a little bit relieved," Sauter said, "but I feel more fired up about 2017 right now than I thought I would. Sometimes you like a break at the end of the year. I feel like I'm ready to go to the race track right now, I really do. I feel that good about where we're at."
Sadler, 41, finished third behind Suarez in the year-ending 300-miler at Homestead, but picked up a cherished award as the XFINITY Series' Most Popular Driver. The JR Motorsports driver also won the honor in 2011 during his time with Richard Childress Racing.
"That's a really good feeling," Sadler said. "That's a humbling feeling where fans will actually vote for you to be Most Popular Driver. Like I said in my speech, at a time now where it's cool to promote the youth of our sport, to have the fans' voice in your corner and still believe that you can do it and are still a big part of the sport means a lot to me."
Reddick, 20, rode a wave of fan support through a fun-filled social media initiative that neatly tied in with the U.S. presidential election, taking part in a spirited online debate with Brad Keselowski Racing teammate Daniel Hemric. Reddick was thorough in offering thanks to his fans and public-relations reps in receiving the Most Popular Driver award for the first time.
"It meant a whole lot. We put a huge effort into the whole campaign, if you would call it that," said Reddick, who will drive part-time for Chip Ganassi Racing in the XFINITY Series next year. "The debate videos, the pictures, just all the content that we pushed on social media played a huge key in making it possible to have a shot at being Most Popular Driver. Just to be able to come here and waiting to find out if I really won was really neat."