Suarez riding wave of personal firsts into Cup Series Playoffs

Nigel Kinrade/NKP/Motorsport Images

Suarez riding wave of personal firsts into Cup Series Playoffs

NASCAR

Suarez riding wave of personal firsts into Cup Series Playoffs

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There might be plenty of laps still to run, but Daniel Suarez has already accomplished quite a few personal firsts this season with his No. 99 Trackhouse Racing team.

Most laps led in a single season? He has crossed that off the bingo card after 23 events. Improve on his points position? At 13th in the championship standings, it is the highest Suarez has sat on the board this late in a season. Win a race? That came in dominating fashion at Sonoma Raceway. It was an accomplishment that came with not one, but two rewards by also qualifying Suarez for the playoffs for the first time.

All of these things are nice, but he doesn’t appear done. Nor does he seem satisfied.

Saturday at Richmond Raceway, Suarez admitted it’s nice to be in the final stretch of the regular season not having to worry about the playoffs. There won’t be a last-ditch effort like the last few seasons to try and make the grid because he knows he will be a part of it.

“I’m going to be honest — in my mind, I’m already in the playoffs, and I’ve had that mindset for the last six weeks,” Suarez said. “I believe it’s not possible to go into the playoffs and just flip the switch and say, ‘OK, we’re in the playoffs, and now we have to push very hard.’

“I don’t think it works like that, so you have to start building that up, and I feel like that’s what we’ve been doing, especially within the No. 99 team. I think that shows on the track.”

Since his Sonoma win, Suarez has finished outside the top 10 just three times. Two of those results were in the last two weeks but did not reflect the team’s performance. He was a contender on the Indianapolis road course but didn’t survive the chaos. The No. 99 Chevrolet was fast at Michigan and ran top three but was ultimately caught out by the last caution when teammate Ross Chastain collided with Christopher Bell.

Without the caution, Suarez felt he and Chastain could have controlled the end of the race given their pit strategy. And while he doesn’t think he was fast enough to beat the Toyota drivers outright, he was confident in winding up with a podium finish. Suarez led 33 laps at Michigan.

Indianapolis and Michigan ended the top-10 streak at four. He was no worse than ninth between Road America (July 3) and Pocono (July 24).

“The last two months, we’ve had race cars capable of finishing in the top five every single week,” said Suarez. “The last two weeks, we haven’t finished there for different circumstances, but besides that, we’ve finished in the top five, top eight every single week. That’s good. I like that.

“This weekend in Richmond, I feel like this is a real, real test for us, especially since we struggled a lot here last time. I’m really looking forward to this week to see where we stack up.”

Suarez finished 16th at Richmond in the spring. It is the second racetrack that Cup Series teams visit for a second time before the postseason starts (Atlanta being the other while Daytona will be the third and last).

As far as the postseason goes, Suarez has his mind ready and believes his team is ready to be a contender when it matters most.

“I think so,” he said. “I definitely think we’re going to be strong. Our team just keeps getting stronger and stronger, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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