Mexico City native Max Gutiérrez caught the attention of many in the industry when the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series visited Nashville Superspeedway on June 24.
In just his second appearance with AM Racing, Gutiérrez overcame having his qualifying time disallowed and charged through the field to bring home an eighth-place run. He finished better than John Hunter Nemechek, Chandler Smith and defending series champion Ben Rhodes.
Exceeding expectations has been a common theme for Gutiérrez throughout his career, but even he was surprised at how efficient his evening was at Nashville against Truck Series regulars.
“Everything happened so quick, and I couldn’t believe it,” Gutiérrez said. “That was one of the best races I’ve ever had, especially since it was my first time at Nashville. We had to come from the back twice, so I had a very good truck that night.”
RACING REFERENCE: Career stats for Max Gutiérrez
Before Gutiérrez began making a name for himself in the United States, he developed his skills as a driver across NASCAR-sanctioned events in his home country of Mexico.
NASCAR first established a presence in Mexico back in 2004 with the formation of Desafio Corona, which later became the NASCAR Mexico Series. The series has attracted many talented drivers from around Mexico like Daniel Suárez, Rogelio López, Rubén García Jr. and German Quiroga, all of whom have made at least one NASCAR start in the U.S.
The Mexico Series also follows its American counterpart by employing a ladder system designed to prepare drivers for the country’s top level of stock car racing. This consists of the Mexico Challenge Series, which shares the track with the main division, and the Mikel’s Truck Series.
Gutiérrez quickly got acclimated to the physical and mental demands of NASCAR by winning the Mikel’s Truck Series Rookie of the Year honors in 2018. He followed that with a championship in the Challenge Series in 2020 after tallying five victories.
When he officially joined the Mexico Series for the 2021 season, Gutiérrez easily took home Rookie of the Year honors with eight top-five performances. His closest opportunity at a win came at Autodromo de Monterrey, where he scored a class finish of second to Ruben Rovelo, who holds the most victories in the history of the Mexico Series with 26.
The competitive depth of the Mexico Series and the diverse set of tracks he visits each year are factors Gutiérrez believes have made him composed behind the wheel. And that has been an essential quality in his transition to the U.S.
“Racing here in Mexico helps you gain a lot of experience, because you go to short tracks and superspeedways,” Gutiérrez said. “The cars are very competitive, and there’s only half a second separating the top 10. You have a shot at a great future in the U.S. by doing well here.”
With help from his Mexico Series car owner Jimmy Morales, Carlos Slim and Felix Sabates’ son Jose, Gutiérrez started competing in short track events around North and South Carolina. During the 2020 season, Gutiérrez made his ARCA Menards Series debut with Troy Williams Racing, which led to a full-time ride in the ARCA Menards Series East with Rette Jones Racing the following year.
The pairing’s first race together at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway proved to be a memorable one, as Gutiérrez ended up winning on a last-lap pass off Turn 4 following contact between Sammy Smith and Taylor Gray for the lead.
To this day, Gutiérrez is still in disbelief over how the final lap played out at New Smyrna. Although he only tallied one more top five in 2021 following the victory, Gutiérrez remains motivated to show everyone he can be competitive on a consistent basis.
While Gutiérrez is excited about his future, he is currently focused on finishing his sophomore Mexico Series season on a positive note. With a handful of races remaining, Gutiérrez sits sixth in the point standings with two top fives.
A handful of bad finishes have prevented Gutiérrez from being a factor in the Mexico Series title. Despite this, Gutiérrez is determined to shake off his misfortune and tally a win in the series that shaped him into the driver he is today.
“Hopefully we can finish top three in the championship in Mexico,” Gutiérrez said. “My luck hasn’t been the best, but hopefully that starts to turn around as we approach the last race. The experience is only going to make me feel more secure about what I’m doing.”
There is a plan for Gutiérrez to one day emigrate from Mexico to the U.S., but he admitted that continuing to grow behind the wheel and building connections within NASCAR are more pressing issues for him now.
Gutiérrez’s top 10 at Nashville provided him a major confidence boost in his ability to one day compete in the Cup Series. He intends to race full-time in the Truck Series next year, but he admitted the number of races he runs will come down to funding and sponsorship.
With a great support system, Gutiérrez is confident he can find the necessary sponsorship to build upon his success in Mexico and rack up many more accomplishments in NASCAR’s top divisions.
“The journey has been difficult, but I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of people that have helped me out along the way,” Gutiérrez said. “Because of them, I’m right where I’m supposed to be, and I know I’m going to have many more great moments in my career.”