NASCAR: What Daniel Suarez thinks about racing at Auto Club Speedway – Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
In his first four races in the No. 19 car, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has had one top-10 finish and is 21st in the point standings. Coming off a career-high finish in Phoenix last weekend, Suarez is looking to turn a corner on his debut season this weekend at the Auto Club 400.
“Being in the West Coast, there’s three races in a row that I really enjoy. I have a lot of fun and change a little bit the routines from the East Coast and I love to reach a lot of Latin American fans,” the 25-year-old Suarez said by phone from Phoenix. “The West Coast has been nothing but great to me and I expect to keep it up.”
His ascension to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was a bit of a surprise. In January, it was announced Suarez would be taking over for Carl Edwards, who unexpectedly retired.
When it came to picking a replacement for Edwards, team owner Gibbs said Suarez was the obvious choice after he “had an unbelievable year in the Xfinity” Series.
“As everybody here in NASCAR has watched him talent-wise, we felt like that obviously that was a great choice for us, and I think he’s had the right background,” Gibbs said in a statement.
Suarez got started in NASCAR in 2012 when he left his family in Monterrey, Mexico, and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, the hub of the sport. He did so knowing very little English. He had achieved success on the tracks in his native country while racing in the NASCAR Toyota Series and the K&N Pro Series East. In 2010, he won the NASCAR Mexico Series Rookie of the Year award. Two years later, he was in contention for the championship.
In 2015, his first year in the Xfinity Series, Suarez took home Rookie of the Year honors. Last year, only his second year on the lower race series, he became the first Mexican-born driver to ever win a major NASCAR series championship.
Although he initially struggled this season, he has managed to improve his finish after each race.
“It’s been quick and everything has been happening pretty quick,” Suarez said. “I’m with a good team, I’m a dedicated driver, so I don’t see why we won’t be strong once we put all the pieces — communication and chemistry — together.”
The rookie driver isn’t necessarily stressing out. He approaches each race like he did while in the lower series, Suarez said.
“It’s a process and you need to be patient and to work in that process and build that chemistry,” he explained. “I know I can do much better than 20th, and I know my team can do much better than 20th.”
Suarez made those comments prior to last weekend’s race in Phoenix, where he finished in seventh place, his best finish in 2017.
“I guess when you work one year at time, anything can happen. If you asked, ‘Hey, do you think you can win this championship?’ in the beginning of last year, I would have said, ‘I’m not sure — we have to win a race first,’ ” he said, referring to his Xfinity championship. “Then we won a race and won the championship.”
When asked about Suarez’s progress this year, Gibbs expressed his confidence in the young driver.
“(Crew chief) Dave Rogers leading it, Daniel will be put with a team that has one of the best pit crews in the sport. Obviously a veteran crew chief that we have extreme confidence in, and so he’ll be surrounded,” said Gibbs, who recently met with the crew of the No. 19 car. “He’ll be surrounded with that group. … I think we’re going to be putting him in the right place.”
Once the news was made public he would be moving up to the Cup Series, Suarez felt a wave of support from the Latin American community.
“It’s very cool to be able to see a lot of support, it’s something very different. I’m really enjoying this a lot and I wouldn’t change this over anything,” Suarez said. “I think NASCAR, myself and everyone (in the sport) are moving in the right direction to bring Latin American drivers and Latin American fans to the racetrack.”