Daniel Suarez is saying all the right things, like expressing complete confidence in his No. 41 team qualifying for the playoffs. He is also putting up decent numbers in his third Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season that could ultimately result in the overall best year of his short career.
In his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, how important is it that Suarez does his part for the championship organization by being a part of the postseason for the first time?
“I think we’re going to do it,” Suarez says. “I feel like we been running a little bit off in the last few weeks and we kind of backed off a little bit, but actually we been… trying different stuff. We know that what we have normally is good enough to run top 10, but it’s not great [enough] yet to win races. So, we’ve been trying different stuff.
“Now that we are kind of backing up, now we have to regroup and go to what we know works for top 10s and start to put our points deal together again, and we’re going to be back where we need to be. We have to keep working on it. There is still many races left; we just have to be consistent and avoid big mistakes.”
A 40th-place finish in Daytona didn’t help the cause. Collected in a lap 84 accident, Suarez finished outside the top 15 for the third straight week. Although he did fall off the playoff grid, a three-point deficit is not insurmountable, and before his three-week slide, Suarez had finished eighth (Pocono) and fourth (Michigan) to give him six top-10 finishes for the year.
The 27-year-old has never made the playoffs, having finished 20th and 21st in his two seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing. In moving to SHR, he remains in competitive equipment and still looking for his first career win. Whether it’s been Gibbs or SHR, Suarez has always had the opportunity to succeed at the sport’s highest level, and even if he insists that he doesn’t feel the pressure, it’s there – as are the continued expectations for him to get the job done.
But right now, Suarez isn’t on an island by himself. All four SHR drivers are yet to win a race this year, and even beyond the win column Suarez is not far off his teammates. He has led more laps this season (53) than he did in 2017 or ’18, which also more than Clint Bowyer has led. Even though Suarez is the lowest SHR driver in points, he has the third-best average finish of the group -– 15.7, behind Kevin Harvick’s 12.3 and Aric Almirola’s 13.5. Bowyer has a 16.4 average finish and just two more top 10 finishes than Suarez (eight to Suarez’s six).
“I feel like we are right there,” says Suarez of his teammates. “Kevin Harvick has been a little bit better than us on a consistent basis, but sometimes we are the same. In Michigan, we were the same. We run well there. But there is always something, a little something, missing and we’ve been working very hard to find that. The team is definitely in a very different position than one year ago. One year ago at this point, they had who-knows-how-many wins (seven); right now we have none.
“This is what the rule package does. They put teams to work in different directions, and trying to learn again and reset things, and unfortunately, we have been struggling a little bit more than what the team is used to. But I have confidence in them, they have confidence in me, and we’ve been doing our part. Like I said, we made our bed a few weeks ago to do something to try to find something. We didn’t. Now we have to go back, so we’ll be fine.”
USA Today quoted team co-owner Tony Stewart in April saying about Suarez, “He’s already passed the audition. He’s got the job. I told him there’s no pressure. That’s the same thing I told Aric Almirola last year. You’ve already got the job, now settle in, work with your team and go race.”
Suarez said the feedback he’s received about his place in the organization has been: ‘be patient’.
“They have told me many times they know what I can do, I have shown that before, and right now we are not exactly where we need to be but we are going to get there,” he says. “We have to remember that racing is a roller coaster. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, and it doesn’t matter how long you are in the middle, but you have to enjoy that and you have to work hard to try to be up.
“Right now we are in a little difficult moment, but we are working very, very hard to make that different.”