CHAMPION PROFILE: Peralta On Top
Peralta Championship Highlights Season Of Firsts In Mexico
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A season of firsts.
Those four words perfectly sum up the 2013 NASCAR Toyota Series. In a year that saw the series hold its first points race outside of Mexico, the championship decided by a five-race playoff and a third-year driver winning his first championship in his first full season, the only other word to describe the 2013 season is “exciting.”
Rodrigo Peralta’s 2013 season was the textbook definition of a breakout campaign. After finishing inside the top 10 once in three part-time seasons with the series, Peralta led all drivers in top fives and top 10s in 2013, picking up his first series victory en route to the NASCAR Toyota Series championship in Mexico.
“Three years ago, when I won the Stock Series V6 championship, I saw a great driver like Germán Quiroga receive the championship trophy,” Peralta said. “From that moment I dreamed of accomplishing that feat and today it’s become a reality. I’d like to thank the Tame Racing team and my family, without them none of this would be possible.”
Peralta and the other series drivers shared the spotlight in Mexico City, Mexico, on Thursday evening. Next stop for Peralta and his Axalta-Sanirent-Cinemex Tame Racing team will be the Crown Ballroom of the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Saturday, Dec. 14 as part of the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards ceremony.
“It’s a real pleasure for me to see Rodrigo (Peralta) become a NASCAR champion,” said Enrique Contreras, Director of the NASCAR Toyota Series. “I’ve seen his growth as a driver since he was very young. Congratulations on this achievement.”
With a 15-race schedule the margin of error is slim. Mechanical problems, bad luck or just a bad day can unravel a team’s season in a heartbeat. After missing the season opening event in Phoenix, Ariz., the 25-year-old driver from Queretaro, Mexico, began his season looking up at the rest of the field, facing a 60-point deficit following a 16th place finish in San Luis Potosí.
Peralta knew there would be no room for error if he had any hope of making the Desafío, a five-race playoff for the championship between the series’ top 10 drivers at the conclusion of the tenth event of the season. In Mexico City, the third event of the season, Peralta earned his second career top 10 finish and, more importantly, some positive momentum. On the strength of two top fives and seven top 10 finishes over the course eight races, including a career best – up to that point – second place finish in the 10th event on the calendar, the second of three races in Mexico City, Peralta found himself back in contention and with a spot in the Toyota Series Desafío.
With the 10 Desafío drivers having their points reset to 1000, Peralta found himself with new life and five races to stake his claim to the championship trophy. The first race of the Desafío brought the series back to San Luis Potosí. Peralta fared better in his second trip to the half-mile paved oval, scoring a top 10 finish and keeping pace with the rest of the field. After recording his third top five finish of the campaign at Puebla, Peralta found himself six points out of the lead.
The third race of the Desafío brought the series to Aguascalientes, a .875-mile banked oval that would quickly become one of Peralta’s favorite tracks. Monterrey-native Daniel Suárez dominated for the majority of the afternoon, taking the lead on the 84th lap and holding it until the final restart on lap 160. The 21-year-old driver looked poised to earn his third win of the season and a lead in the championship standings, but Peralta had different plans. While Suárez and series veteran Rafael Martínez battled for the lead, Peralta was able capitalize and sneak past the two on the white flag and secure his first career checkered flag. The victory catapulted him to the top of the championship standings, three points ahead of Suárez heading into Chiapas.
In the penultimate event of the season, Suárez once again looked strong early on, leading 47 of the first 51 laps before mechanical problems derailed the his plans of overtaking Peralta in the standings. As a result, Peralta was able to pad to his lead and return to Mexico City with a 15-point advantage.
The stage was set for a final battle at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Even though 15 points is a sizeable lead, Peralta still needed to finish in the top half of the field to end any comeback bid from Suárez.
The race proved to be as exciting as promised. Suárez and Peralta began the event up front, starting first and third respectively, but both drivers quickly found themselves running in the top two spots with a championship on the line. Late-lap cautions would lead to three green-white-checkered finish attempts, with Suárez and Peralta still fighting for the checkered flag. Suárez knew that he needed more than a victory to take home the championship trophy, and kept trying to push Peralta to the outside on the restarts, but Peralta held on, eventually letting Suárez pull away for the race win in order to assure his place in the Toyota Series record books.
When it was all said and done, Peralta finished eight points ahead of Suárez in the final standings, but, more importantly, with his first series championship. The young driver who had never run more than nine races in three part-time seasons now found himself the new monarch in the NASCAR Toyota Series.
Peralta finished 2013 with a win, six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes. For his career, he has made 27 series starts with one win, six top-five and 12 top-10 finishes.
In his first full-time season, Peralta scored his first top five, his first victory and his first NASCAR Toyota Series Championship. Courtesy OCESA