Sooner or later, Daniel Suarez is going to reach victory lane. All the parts and pieces are in place for the native of Monterrey, Mexico, to earn his first XFINITY Series win.
Suarez is in his second season driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, which has been the most dominant NXS team in 2016. While the speed of the JGR cars has been crucial to Suarez’s success, he has shown steady improvement as a driver.
The first half of Suarez’s rookie season had an up and down feel, and it was clear that the former NASCAR Mexico Series winner was still getting used to his new team and a new slate of tracks. As the season progressed, Suarez earned better results and developed greater consistency. In fact, seven of Suarez’s eight top fives in 2015 came in the last 18 races of the season.
This year, Suarez and the No. 19 team have been a picture of consistently strong performance, with only one finish outside the top ten through nine races. The sophomore’s consistency has been impressive, especially when compared to teammate Erik Jones, whose season has often been hampered by accidents and pit road miscues.
Jones, however, won last month’s race at Bristol and has therefore accomplished the primary goal of the regular season – secure a spot in the Chase. Suarez has finished within sight of the leaders almost every week and has led the points standings since Las Vegas. His place in the Chase is therefore likely, but not yet assured.
Suarez’s lack of wins is not the result of a lack of effort. The fact that he has led only six laps this year is more of a testament to how strong the Sprint Cup regulars moonlighting in the XFINITY Series have performed. Suarez finished a respectable, but distant, second to teammate Kyle Busch at Las Vegas on an afternoon when Busch led every lap but one. A few weeks later at Fontana, Suarez started on the pole and again spent much of the day tailing the No. 18. When Busch blew a tire on the final lap and slowed dramatically, Suarez was right there to take the lead, only to run out of fuel and fall to fourth place in the race’s final mile.
When might Suarez have a good opportunity to claim a win of his own?
The two heaviest hitters from the Sprint Cup Series in this weekend’s NXS race at Dover International Speedway are Joey Logano and Paul Menard. Suarez would have to defeat them, along with the usual contingent of XFINITY regulars. A better opportunity for the No. 19 team would be to win the Dash 4 Cash bonus this weekend. Winning the Dash 4 Cash at Dover and Indianapolis in a few months would qualify Suarez for the Chase. Yet with relatively few Cup drivers to face this weekend, there is no doubt that Suarez will go all out to reach victory lane.
The best opportunity for Suarez to get to victory lane is going to come next month at Iowa Speedway. Although that race falls on an off-weekend for the Sprint Cup Series, it is not likely to attract a lot of drivers from NASCAR’s premier division. The XFINITY stars will have a chance to shine, and that will definitely play into Suarez’s hands. Remember that in the first Iowa race last year, Suarez had one of his finest runs of the season, leading 48 laps and looking like one of the drivers to beat until running out of gas in the closing laps.
It is true that Suarez’s season has been one of close-but-not-quite performances. But it is also true that Suarez is doing his job quite well given the circumstances of competition in the XFINITY Series. He remains one of a handful of NXS drivers who really has any shot of winning at all.
Suarez and the No. 19 team have had a win or two slip through their fingers. While that is no fun for any team to deal with, they must keep the big picture in mind. Even without a win, if Suarez can finish the season as strong as he started it, he will be tough to beat in the Chase.
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