Daniel Suarez got off to a rough start in his 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. But in Sunday’s (May 6) AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, he put himself in position to make up for it.
“Especially in the first month-and-a-half of the season,” he said after running third. “[We’ve] been struggling a lot. But now, just really proud of my team.”
Suarez started the 400-mile race from seventh position, his best qualifying effort since the second race of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. And throughout the first stage, the No. 19 team showed its speed at one of Suarez’s best tracks on the circuit.
When a few drivers in front of Suarez ran out of gas over the final few laps in the opening stage, the No. 19 car jumped up to fourth. That earned him a season high seven stage points.
It was speed Suarez would not relinquish. When Stage 2 began, Suarez faded a bit, but never fell outside the top 10. At the conclusion of lap 240, he sat sixth and was awarded five more stage points.
During the final stage, it was a pit stop following a 41-minute red flag that gave Suarez his best shot at the victory. The No. 19 pit crew gained him five positions on pit road, coming out fifth. Just before the green flag waved, Joey Logano brought his car to pit road for a loose wheel, pushing Suarez up to fourth.
That was a big moment as it put Suarez in the preferred racing line. A great restart followed in a track position race that ensured the No. 19 car would be near the front the rest of the day.
“Track position helped us a lot,” Suarez said of his pit crew helping him gain positions on pit road. “They did it right when it counted, so I’m very proud of those guys and I’m excited to keep moving forward.”
Over the final 75 laps, Suarez first raced with Kevin Harvick for second. But when the No. 4 rocketed by he and Clint Bowyer, the battle for the win was lost. Suarez ended the race in third, just ahead of defending champion Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch.
“I feel like we had a pretty strong car the entire weekend,” Suarez said. “Track position was huge. I’m very proud of my team and everyone who put this program together because we have fast cars everywhere we go, and when you race like that, it’s a lot of fun.”
Through the opening eight races of the season, Suarez had just one top-10 finish and sat 24th in the championship standings. But with back-to-back 10th-place finishes heading into Dover, he had gained a bit of momentum heading to his best racetrack.
Earning 12 stage points and finishing third, Suarez has now jumped to 17th in the standings. Sunday equaled his best career finish of third, which he also posted last season at Watkins Glen International. It is, however, his best effort at an oval, a major step in his second-year development as a full-time MENCS driver.
“I don’t know what the deal is with concrete, but I just love Dover,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. I feel like this racetrack is very demanding, physically and mentally and I like that. I like to push myself to the limit and I feel like this is one of those tracks where you have to be at the top limit all the time. It’s just fun for me.”
In three career MENCS starts at the Monster Mile, Suarez now has three top-10 finishes. In his rookie campaign, he finished sixth and eighth, establishing a strong baseline for success. He was also victorious in the fall 2016 XFINITY Series event.
Heading to Kansas Speedway, Suarez is on a streak of three straight top 10s, a feat he accomplished twice in 2017. He trails Chase Elliott by just seven points for the final NASCAR playoff spot.
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