Rookie of the Year contender Daniel Suarez drove like a veteran on Sunday at Watkins Glen International.
The 25-year-old Monterrey, Mexico native wheeled his No. 19 Toyota to a career best third-place finish in the I Love NY 355 at the Glen. He was one of the countless drivers saving fuel in the closing laps, and he saved just enough to cross the finish line with a top five.
“I feel like it was a good weekend,” Suarez said in the media center post-race after leading 14 laps in the event. “We made a lot of progress from the first practice, to the second practice, to qualifying to the race. I’m very happy with the third place and the result and the overall race, but it is very hard to finish third when you see the leader right there. And you’re just cruising to save fuel. Because you don’t really know how much fuel you have left. But overall, a very solid day.”
Suarez also got his first-career stage win in the second stage, holding off eventual race-winner Martin Truex Jr. in the final corner to gain one playoff point and 10 regular season points. The No. 78 car had a run on the No. 19 car coming to the final corner, but Suarez blocked.
“I knew he was coming fast,” Suarez said of Truex. “I’m not sure if he had fresher tires or something. I was just trying to hold him off a little bit and luckily we were able to do it. I knew that we race each other very clean and he’s been super strong the entire year. I knew he wasn’t going to do anything crazy and I wasn’t going to do anything crazy either. It was just a little hard racing there at the end. But congrats to the No. 78, they did a great job. We just have to keep it up… Hopefully we can catch a break before the playoffs to make it.”
The finish was Suarez’s fourth top 10 in a row, first career top-five finish and the third race he had led laps in this season (Pocono and Daytona). He said that the reason for his recent success can be attributed to experience. In his rookie season, more laps and seat time have resulted in a steady improvement in performance.
“I was so looking forward to the second half of the year because we’d be more competitive,” Suarez explained. “And our second time at all these race tracks we’d have a notebook, and we’d go to those race tracks knowing what to expect. All the hard work from my team and everyone in the No. 19 group and Joe Gibbs Racing, TRD, Toyota, is paying off. In the beginning of the year, I wasn’t like that. I feel like we’re moving in the right direction. We have speed pretty much every weekend now, and we’re running in the top 10. I don’t think its a surprise to run in the top 10 anymore. We just have to keep it up. We have to keep ourselves calm and hopefully we can catch a break in the next few weeks or month or so to make it into the playoffs.”
Suarez will look to improve upon his career-best finish next weekend at Michigan International Speedway, where he finished 24th earlier this summer.
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