Daniel Suarez Finally Showed Signs of Life at the NASCAR All-Star Race
Daniel Suarez appeared set to build on a career-best season as he entered his third NASCAR Cup Series campaign with Trackhouse Racing in 2023, but he had a dismal first half of the regular season before leading a season-high 55 laps Sunday in the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Suarez had a career resurgence last season when he set career-high marks in nearly every statistical category during his second season in the No. 99 machine. He scored a career-high six top-fives and 13 top-10s. He led a career-high 280 laps and reached Victory Lane for the first time in his career in June at Sonoma Raceway.
He reached the playoffs for the first time in his career and was in contention to advance to the Round of 8 until a power-steering problem in the final race of the Round of 12 at the Charlotte Roval left him with a 36th-place finish.
Suarez ultimately finished the year 10th in the points standings and had successfully rebuilt his career at age 30 after he had been booted from a prime ride in the No. 19 car for Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2018 season after just two mediocre years.
Daniel Suarez bounced around before finding a home at Trackhouse Racing
He moved to the No. 41 car at Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2019 season and produced similar results. He narrowly missed the playoffs with four top-fives and 11 top-10s, one shy of his 11 top-10 finishes as a rookie for JGR in 2017, and ended the year 17th in the points standings.
SHR replaced Daniel Suarez with Cole Custer for the 2020 season, which left Suarez at a low point in his career. He caught on with Gaunt Brothers Racing to drive the No. 96 car. GBR was an underfunded, backmarker team, and the results matched. Suarez failed to qualify for the season-opening Daytona 500 and managed only two finishes better than 20th, which left him a career-worst 31st in the points standings.
Suarez then moved to newly-formed Trackhouse in 2021, and positive results were slow to come. He had a stunning fourth-place run early in the season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway but otherwise recorded only three other top-10 results and finished 25th in the points standings.
His career trajectory began to change, however, when Trackhouse bought out Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2021 season. The organization took over the CGR shop and added the former CGR No. 1 team to its stable, and kept Ross Chastain as the driver.
Trackhouse flourished in the 2022 season, and Suarez and Chastain were able to ride that wave of success. Chastain won a pair of races and finished second in the championship standings, while Suarez also enjoyed the most success of his Cup Series career.
Chastain has carried that momentum through the offseason into the 2023 campaign. He has yet to win a race but leads the points standings through 13 races and ranks fourth in the series with 347 laps led. Suarez, meanwhile, has led only 16 laps in points-paying events and ranks 18th in the points standings.
Suarez could take his All-Star Race success into the rest of the season
Suarez’s weekend at North Wilkesboro was much more similar to 2022, when he was a factor in races on a regular basis. His pit crew finished second in the pit crew challenge Friday, and Suarez won his heat race Saturday to secure the pole position for the big race on Sunday. He led the first 54 laps of the 200-circuit exhibition race on the 0.625-mile oval before eventual winner Kyle Larson stormed his way to the front in what turned out to be a dominating performance.
Suarez also led a lap during the competition caution halfway through the event. He eventually slid back to seventh place by the end of the race, but the fact that he spent the majority of the night at or near the front of the field is a notable accomplishment for a team that has had only one top-10 result since it opened the season with three straight top 10s.
North Wilkesboro is a unique track with a highly worn-out, 42-year-old racing surface, but Suarez and the No. 99 team could still carry some momentum from the All-Star Race and change the trajectory of their season.
Suarez also has some of his best tracks still ahead on the schedule. He is a road-course ace with his background in that style of racing, and four road courses or street courses fill the 13 races that remain in the regular season. Plus, he has four top-10s in 11 career races at Pocono Raceway, including a third-place finish a year ago, and the series will visit the 2.5-mile triangle track in July.
Daniel Suarez will have ample opportunities to turn his season around, reach Victory Lane once again and return to the playoffs. Perhaps the All-Star Race was the jolt he and his team needed to surge through the second half of the regular season.