Salvador de Alba

In an alternate universe, Salvador de Alba could be at Daytona International Speedway for Speedweeks this weekend.

De Alba, 24, a two-time NASCAR Peak Mexico Series champion (2021, 2023), could be following in the tire tracks of fellow Mexican driver Daniel Suarez, a current NASCAR Cup Series driver for Trackhouse Racing and former NASCAR Peak Mexico Series graduate.

Instead, de Alba is preparing for his rookie INDY NXT by Firestone season. He’ll compete for Andretti Cape in the first of a two-year deal.

This is his preferred spot.

De Alba’s dream is to race in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. He’s on the cusp of doing so. This is a dream that was rooted in 2015 and became a reality in 2021, all because he and former Mexican INDYCAR SERIES driver Michel Jourdain Jr. crossed paths.

Jourdain, who made 156 career starts and won twice in the INDYCAR SERIES in 2003 with Team Rahal, went back to Mexico once his racing days in the United States ended. In 2015, Jourdain and de Alba were on the same racing team in Mexico. Instantly, the two drivers forged a bond.

“He always said to me, ‘You deserve the chance to go to the U.S.,” de Alba said.

Despite many years of on-track success in Mexico, the budget for sponsorship to come to America was a challenge. From 2017-20, de Alba won six of his 48 NASCAR Peak Mexico Series starts, including 14 podium finishes and championship results of 12th, sixth, second and fourth, respectively. He also won the Gran Turismo (SuperCopa) Mexico championship in 2019.

With those accolades but no chance to go to America to race, he was resigned to continuing to build his career in Mexico.

Then came a phone call in 2021 from Jourdain that changed his life and the outcome of this journey.

“One day in 2021, he called me and said, ‘Hey, are you are you sitting down?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I'm here in my home.’

“He said, OK, next month, you will be testing for Andretti (Global) in Mid-Ohio.”

De Alba pounced on the opportunity, his first taste of the INDYCAR SERIES in person.

That test and what he witnessed as a fan that weekend was enough to make de Alba feel like this was a second chance to make a dream become reality.

De Alba was in awe of the access the fans have to drivers in the paddock and the family atmosphere of the races.

“It was amazing what INDYCAR can achieve about the paddock and the fans,” he said. “Fans can be so close to the cars, meet the drivers. meet everyone. Everyone's so open, and I think that's something very special for INDYCAR.”

He performed well enough in the test to make this dream a reality. Jourdain found the funding.

Even after winning the 2021 NASCAR Peak Mexico Series championship with four wins and seven podiums in 12 starts and a Super Copa GTM championship too, de Alba jumped at the chance to race in the United States in 2022.

He still raced in both racing series in Mexico (NASCAR Peak Mexico Series, Super Copa) but drove as a rookie in USF Pro 2000 for Jay Howard Driver Development.

Despite not previously racing at any USF Pro 2000 tracks, de Alba won twice in 17 races and had four podium results to finish eighth in points at season’s end. He also won another Super Copa championship in Mexico in 2022.

De Alba ran it back in 2023, this time with Exclusive Autosport in USF Pro 2000. He won one race in 18 starts but was more consistent and finished third in points. He also won the championship in both NASCAR Peak Mexico Series and Super Copa.

This season, with nothing else to prove in Mexico and proper funding, de Alba’s sole focus is INDY NXT by Firestone.

De Alba hopes his championship pedigree is enough for a seamless transition. Being a race winner is one thing, becoming a champion is entirely different.

“I think something that you have to rely on is your ethics,” he said on what makes a champion different from just a race winner. “Inside and outside the track is what do you do on the race car. And I think a big deal. It's just a communication between you and your team. That trust you got to have with your engineers, with your mechanic with everyone, it's good.”