The silly season rumors have been hot and heavy recently, and while there still is a lot that needs to be sorted out, one thing was made certain this week. On Monday, it was announced that Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing will part ways following the 2020 season.
The news came as a bit of a shock, considering Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing were in their first season together and both parties seemed to indicate they were interested in a long term partnership together.
However, a lot of things have changed since January, and Suarez finds himself as a free agent once again. The 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion’s future looks murky. There are plenty of rides available for Suarez whether it be in the Cup, Xfinity or Truck Series garage, but where he will end up for 2021 is still very unclear.
This has led us to wonder: Will Daniel Suarez ever become a consistent winner in the Cup Series?
The Monterrey, Mexico driver’s future is debated this week by Clayton Caldwell and Mark Kristl.
A Third Opportunity Doesn’t Happen Often
There comes a time in a driver’s career when they get opportunities to capitalize. These moments are few and far between. Daniel Suarez has already had two big-time opportunities to prove his worth in NASCAR. It’s not often someone gets a third shot at it.
Big-time rides are rare in NASCAR – there are only a few seats, and everyone wants them.
There have been numerous drivers in the history of NASCAR who were extremely talented racecar drivers who, for one reason or another, did not win in NASCAR despite having a ton of talent. Think of Steve Kinser or Juan Pablo Montoya, two talented drivers who just couldn’t make it happen in Cup.
But after three middling seasons in strong cars, it appears Daniel Suarez is going to be in that boat. He had two opportunities to win races early in his career. He was the defending Xfinity Series champion and had plans to run for the title again in 2017 until Carl Edwards abruptly retired in January. That led to a late promotion to the Cup Series with Joe Gibbs Racing, possibly before he was ready.
In his three years in big-time equipment in the Cup Series, Suarez struggled, there’s no question about it. He finished 20th in his rookie year with a team capable of making the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The following year, he finished a mere 21st and was released from JGR.
Suarez found himself in a new home at Stewart-Haas Racing for 2019. It was a fresh start for him with a new team and a new outlook, and the expectations were high. But he again missed the playoffs in a car that had easily made it to the playoffs for the past few years. In his prime, Suarez should have gone much farther than he did.
While I don’t think his lack of success in Cup was 100% his fault, Suarez has failed to capitalize on his opportunity in prime rides. These opportunities don’t come around often. Will he get a third shot at the big time? I find it highly unlikely. – Clayton Caldwell
Suarez Needs a Long-Term Home to Win
Suarez is only 28 years old. He can become a winner in the Cup Series. He just needs a long-term home to reach victory lane for the first time in his Cup Series career.
Joe Gibbs Racing did Suarez a disservice by fielding him in only 14 Xfinity Series races in 2017 and then two races in 2018. Yes, Suarez had competed on all the tracks on the Cup Series schedule, but he would have benefitted from more track time. At a minimum, running up front would have bolstered his confidence for the Cup Series race.
After 2018, Joe Gibbs Racing replaced Suarez with Martin Truex Jr.
Suarez found a full-time ride for 2019 with Stewart-Haas Racing, but for 2020, that full-time ride was with Gaunt Brothers Racing, not a contending team. The team lacked a charter and attempted to run its first full-time Cup Series season. The year began costly for the team as Suarez wrecked out of his Duel race, failing to qualify for the Daytona 500.
Since then, he has failed to muster any top-10 finishes, but he only has one DNF – in the second Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway. While his 31st-place showing in the point standings obviously is reflective of his performance, Gaunt Brothers Racing faced an uphill battle entering this year.
This year, there were two new winners in the Cup Series – William Byron and Cole Custer. Both drivers wheel cars from championship-winning organizations. Byron won in his third Cup season whereas Custer won in his rookie season. However, Custer won at Kentucky Speedway by acing a late restart.
Nevertheless, those two drivers are proof Suarez can win in the Cup Series. He just needs a long-term team.
Suarez is rumored to replace Bubba Wallace in the No. 43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports. The team has shown an uptick in performance this year. With a charter, Suarez would not have to worry about qualifying into every race.
With that peace of mind, Suarez and Richard Petty Motorsports could work together to build the program. The team has shown a commitment to its drivers. Wallace drove for the team for four years while his predecessor Aric Almirola spent six years driving for RPM.
Suarez also would benefit from the Richard Petty Motorsports alliance with Richard Childress Racing. RCR driver Austin Dillon won and made the playoffs and his rookie teammate Tyler Reddick has two top fives and seven top 10s after winning back-to-back Xfinity Series championships.
After NASCAR returned from its COVID-19 hiatus, there have been no practice sessions. It has been a detriment to Suarez in his first season driving for a new full-time team. There is less track time to improve its No. 96 Toyota, and it also leaves the team with a smaller notebook for the next time the Cup Series races at each respective track.
Should practice sessions return next year, Suarez would absolutely mount a significant upward curve in his first year with the team, whether it be Richard Petty Motorsports or another team. He and the team would have more time to hone their communication, tune the car, and study for the race itself.
Suarez’s NASCAR career is at a crossroads. Should he fail to land a long-term ride in the Cup Series, he will not grow as a driver. However, if he joins a team with a multi-year contract, Suarez can continue his development. He has demonstrated he knows how to keep a car clean to finish a race. Winning a Cup Series race is still realistic for Suarez. He just needs a long-term team to do it. – Mark Kristl
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