At one point during his media rounds on Monday, Daniel Suarez described his arrival at Stewart-Haas Racing as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
In the eyes of the newly-minted 27-year-old, it’s tough for a driver to get one opportunity with a successful organization. Getting two such chances doesn’t happen very often. But that’s the position Suarez finds himself in after being ousted from Joe Gibbs Racing after two seasons in the No. 19, only to land with a multiyear deal to drive the No. 41 Ford at SHR.
“I’m very lucky to come from a very good organization and coming to another very, very good organization,” Suarez said. “That’s not easy to happen. Most of the time when you leave a very good organization it’s not because you’re going to another very good one, it’s because maybe you didn’t make it or something like that. I feel like Stewart-Haas is open for the challenge with myself.”
Challenges? Oh, there will be plenty. New team. New manufacturer (one that’s also switching body styles). A new rules package. Yet Suarez appears unfazed by the “pressure” word, which of course comes with joining a championship-winning organization.
A year after the sport watched Aric Almirola go from mediocrity with Richard Petty to winning and contending in the playoffs at SHR, it’s Suarez’s turn. However, there should be some feeling of familiarity since Suarez is still going to be surrounded by race winners in Kevin Harvick, who’s also a past champion, Clint Bowyer and Almirola.
“There is pressure, but I have had pressure my entire life,” Suarez said of doing his part. “I feel like if there is no pressure, there is no fun, and I like the pressure. I like to have [a] challenge, and I like when people say, ‘Hey, that’s a winning car.’ OK, let’s go there and win with the thing, and that’s the way I think about all this. I feel like it’s going to be a lot of fun to have a good group of guys, and good group of guys who believe in what I do and what I can bring to the table … and be competitive, and hopefully, eventually, win trophies.”
Until the struggles of 2018, Suarez felt his career was going in the right direction. In two full seasons in the Xfinity Series, he won three races and finished fifth (in 2015) and first (2016) in the championship. Then came the unexpected jump into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to replace Carl Edwards. Yet Suarez felt he had a good first season, earning 12 top-10 finishes.
Last year “wasn’t the perfect year.” His decline in performance resulted in his finishing one spot lower in the point standings, going from 20th in ’17 to 21st with just nine top-10s. Over a year and a half, Suarez believes he experienced more changes on his team than in all the previous years combined. That included starting with Dave Rogers as crew chief before he resigned in the spring of ‘17, working with Scott Graves, and then welcoming Rogers back to close out 2018.
How will things be different with SHR? Why will this group be a better fit?
“The way I look at it, it’s like a relationship,” Suarez said. “You have to have that good communication, that good chemistry with everyone, and everyone needs to want you to be successful. There’s a lot of organizations out there that are very good, but not all the cars are very good for whatever reason. At Stewart-Haas Racing, if you look at the numbers, it’s the only organization last year that actually won with all four cars. That’s not easy to do at all.
“You have to have a very good organization in the shop, a very good administration and to have everything working in the same direction. I feel like Gibbs was extremely good to me. We won races together, we won a championship together, they gave me an opportunity to go to Cup in 2017.
“In ’17 we did very well for being our first year, and last year, unfortunately, I didn’t meet my expectations. Not even close. We had good results, a couple second places, and a pole position … but extremely inconsistent. There was something missing somewhere and I couldn’t find it, and they couldn’t find it. Sometimes when you have something like that … sometimes it’s better to split ways.”
And for those who have already judged his short career and aren’t impressed with Suarez getting a second chance, he didn’t back down:
“I will say, let them judge, and I will show them what I can do.”