Alex Bowman and Ross Chastain Deserved Their Contract Extensions, but Daniel Suarez? It’s Debatable
This will be remembered as a good Daytona Speedweeks for Alex Bowman, Ross Chastain, and Daniel Suarez, even if nothing goes exceptionally right for any of them in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
That’s because each of the three NASCAR drivers and their respective teams announced this week that they’ve entered into a multi-year agreement to continue their relationship well beyond the 2023 campaign.
So Bowman, Chastain, and Suarez can breathe a sigh of relief that if they don’t exactly set the woods on fire in this weekend’s season opener or even the rest of the year, their seat should be secure for the foreseeable future.
As for whether each member of the trio was deserving of a multi-year contract extension, well, that’s another matter altogether.
Alex Bowman has proven himself over several seasons at Hendrick Motorsports
Despite missing five races late last season due to a concussion suffered in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway, Alex Bowman still enjoyed a good year overall. He won the spring race at Las Vegas, made the playoffs, and finished in the top 10 in 12 of 31 starts. This after going to Victory Lane at least once in each of the three previous NASCAR Cup Series seasons, including 2021, when he triumphed a career-high four times.
Since becoming a full-time Cup driver for Hendrick Motorsports in 2018, Bowman has recorded seven wins and never missed the playoffs despite being a bit inconsistent at times. Inconsistency notwithstanding, the 29-year-old Tucson, Arizona native has established himself as one of the sport’s top young talents and seems to have a very bright future.
In fact, he’ll lead the field to the green flag at Sunday’s Daytona 500 after qualifying on the front row for The Great American Race for the third year in a row. All factors taken into consideration, Bowman is obviously worthy of keeping his ride at Hendrick Motorsports for years to come.
Ross Chastain’s scintillating 2022 alone was enough for Trackhouse to retain him
By far the most pleasant surprise of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, Ross Chastain nearly did the unthinkable — win the championship — in his first year with a second-year team. As it was, the Trackhouse Racing driver earned his first and second career Cup victory and posted a series-high 21 top-10 finishes that included a Cup Series-best 15 top-fives.
Perhaps most memorably, Chastain earned a reputation as an incredibly hard-nosed racer who isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers with his aggression and will quite literally stop at nothing to accomplish his goals. The ultimate example of this, of course, was Chastain’s unforgettable drive from 10th place to fifth place in the final turn of the Round of 8 elimination race at Martinsville, where his willingness to slam the wall multiple times while never taking his foot off the throttle earned him an improbable berth in the Championship 4.
Trackhouse Racing inking Chastain to a new contract that runs multiple seasons — or until his beard is gray, as team president Ty Norris put it on Thursday at Daytona — was a complete no-brainer for the organization’s decision-makers, who would’ve been out of their mind not to lock down the eighth-generation watermelon farmer turned Cup Series star for many years.
Daniel Suarez hasn’t done enough to merit a new, multi-year contract with Trackhouse just yet
Daniel Suarez’s worthiness of a multi-year contract renewal is far more debatable than Alex Bowman’s or Ross Chastain’s. A teammate of Chastain’s last year at Trackhouse Racing and now well into the future, Suarez wasn’t anywhere close to being in Chastain’s league performance-wise despite having a full season with the organization already under his belt.
Sure, Suarez made notable gains from Year One to Year Two with Trackhouse, but should those gains be at least partly attributed to having a teammate of Chastain’s caliber to lean on and glean from? It’s hard to say for sure, but Suarez’s final results from last season — one win, 13 top-10s, six top-fives, and a 10th-place points finish — paled in comparison to Chastain’s.
Suarez also lacks the “it” factor that Chastain possesses in building a personal brand and truly standing out among his Cup Series peers. Is this to say that Suarez — the only Mexico-born driver to ever win a race in NASCAR’s premier division — absolutely shouldn’t have been presented with an offer to remain with Trackhouse beyond 2023? The answer is no. But would the organization have been better off waiting until at least the middle of the 2023 season to assess whether Suarez is the best option to fill that seat? The answer is yes, almost certainly.
After all, in previous Cup Series opportunities with Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing — two of the series’ top organizations — Suarez never won a race and, quite frankly, stunk up the show at times.
This leads one to wonder whether Suarez’s 2022 results were an anomaly or a sign that he’s finally ready for prime time. The verdict is still out.
This much is crystal clear, though: Suarez wasn’t nearly as deserving of a contract extension as teammate Chastain or Alex Bowman, and there’s simply no good argument to be made against that reality.