After winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship in 2016, Daniel Suarez was fast-tracked to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, replacing Carl Edwards at Joe Gibbs Racing. Fast forward almost two full years later and he’s still looking for his first victory in the premier series.
He’s also now in the market for a full-time ride.
Suarez, 26, recorded 12 top-10 finishes in his rookie year. But 2018 has been a bit of a step back. In the first 32 races, the Mexico native has just a trio of top-five efforts and only eight top 10s, down four from 2017. That left him expendable when Martin Truex Jr. came available after Furniture Row Racing revealed they’ll cease operations at the end of 2018; he’s expected to replace Suarez at the No. 19.
Meanwhile, Joe Gibbs Racing has won eight races as a whole this season, seven of which are from Kyle Busch, one of the championship favorites. Suarez is surprised he hasn’t seen more success in the No. 19 car.
“It’s been really disappointing for different reasons,” Suarez told Frontstretch of his season on Saturday (Oct. 27) at Martinsville Speedway. “We haven’t performed the way that we’ve wanted, but sometimes you have years like that and you have to learn from that and move on and make adjustments. Hopefully, I can learn from this and be better for next year.
“This is a very competitive sport, and it’s very easy to lose confidence in yourself. I have worked extremely hard to be where I’m at right now. I know what it takes, and I know what I can do, but it’s difficult.”
Suarez picked up his first career pole at Pocono Raceway in late July, en route to a career-best second-place finish. He backed that race up with a fourth at Watkins Glen International, feeling as though the team finally found the results to match the speed it had at one point in the year.
But much like Suarez, Denny Hamlin, who has a victory in every one of his seasons in the Cup Series, is still looking for his first win of 2018. The lack of results have been difficult for the second-year driver to comprehend.
“The [No.] 18 is strong everywhere we go, and for whatever reason the rest of the team isn’t,” Suarez mentioned. “Realistically, Joe Gibbs Racing has one team that wins today, that’s the way I look at it… I feel like, last year, if you were asking me if I thought I would be winning next year, I would say, ‘100 percent sure.’ A lot of things have changed and we lost something.”
Following the race at Dover International Speedway on Oct. 7, Joe Gibbs Racing made a change atop the No. 19 pit box, placing veteran crew chief Dave Rogers with Suarez. The goal was to get the No. 19 to perform better, and the driver/crew chief duo have past experience, as it was Rogers who called the shots on the No. 19 for the opening five races of the season in 2017.
Rogers replaced Scott Graves, who has worked with Suarez much of his NASCAR career, dating back to their XFINITY championship together in 2016. But Suarez didn’t even know the change was coming.
“Things have been very bad lately,” he said. “I feel like this change wasn’t because I asked for it. I definitely didn’t ask for it, but maybe it was good to see how things play out. Just to see how we were, I wish this change — if it was going to happen, I wish it happened before and not with five races left in the season. That’s how it works sometimes and sometimes you can’t control many things.”
In five races together in 2017, Suarez and Rogers picked up a pair of top 10s at ISM Raceway and Auto Club Speedway. However, the driver wished he was part of the decision-making process of who was going to finish out the season leading the No. 19 team.
”Many people think I was the one asking for the change,” he explained. “But if I was asking for the change I was going to be asking for that change way, way back, not with five races left in the season.”
As for the remainder of 2018, Suarez is hoping to have fun and finish the season off strong with Rogers. Combined, he has a pair of victories in NASCAR’s national touring divisions at Phoenix (Camping World Truck Series) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (XFINITY).
Looking ahead, there have been a lot of rumors on where Suarez’s future will be post-JGR. The driver claims he’s close to having a deal done.
“A little bit. There’s not a lot I can really talk about yet,” Suarez said. “We are working on some things, and hopefully things are clearer soon. It’s been a very stressful last six weeks with a lot of work. In the last two months, I’ve learned a lot about the sport and about the people. I was not expecting many things, and I’ve learned more in the last two months than the last four years, and I feel like that’s been good as a person.
“A lot of things were very surprising for me and my group of people, but sometimes you get frustrated and mad about things, and at the end of the day, you start to find out why that happened and everything happens for a reason. I’m excited about the future.”
Suarez also believes this was a growing process, learning more about the business side of NASCAR.
“I’m not a kind of guy that likes to talk bad about anyone, but you have a plan and a plan with someone and try to move forward together,” Suarez added. “You have all these projects together, and sometimes things change from one day to another without really asking you whether it’s good or bad. Just disappointed with how this works, but at the end of the day, this is a business, but it’s very hard to not take it personal. It’s part of the sport, I guess.”