There’s no question that Daniel Suarez is a talented young driver. The 2016 Xfinity Series champion’s biggest problem might be that he was simply brought up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series a bit ahead of schedule, after Carl Edwards forced car owner Joe Gibbs’ hand with an early retirement. Another year in the lower series might have given Suarez a better opportunity for immediate success when he made the move to the Cup series.
The 27-year-old driver has struggled at times in his first two years in the Cup Series. He was the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver to miss the playoffs last year, finishing the season 21st in driver points with just three top 5s and nine top 10s.
Those disappointing results may not be the whole story of Suarez’s 2018 season, though, for a couple of reasons. One, Suarez was only 95 points behind 17th-place driver Ryan Newman, a sizable but not ridiculous amount, and he finished 71 points ahead of 22nd place, a solid margin. Also, he wasn’t returning to JGR for 2019, giving little incentive to the team to focus on him while having three other drivers in the playoffs. JGR has taken criticism in the past — including from within — for putting all its eggs in one basket, focusing on one driver gunning for a title to the detriment of others, even if they are in the hunt themselves. Suarez apparently fell victim to that mentality.
Suarez moves to the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41, bringing his backers from Arris along with him, although a deal had yet to be announced as of late December. He’s not alone in being a late signer, though. Former champion Kurt Busch was also slow to put together a deal, among others.
Suarez is not unaccustomed to success on track. He won three races for JGR in the 2016 Xfinity Series en route to the championship. He has wins in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series (one), K&N Pro Series East (three) and NASCAR Peak Mexico Series (10) as well, earning those results despite not always running full time.
Suarez became the odd man out at JGR when 2017 Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. became available following the shuttering of Furniture Row Racing after the 2018 season. He’s not the first young driver to receive walking papers from the organization when a veteran free agent was an attractive option. JGR cut Joey Logano loose in 2012 in favor of Matt Kenseth. Logano is the reigning Cup champion, so for Suarez, it’s far from the end of the line.
What he’ll need for future success is a team that will be patient and allow him to learn. His success in the Xfinity Series offers hope: Those cars are lower in horsepower and higher in downforce than the Cup machines have been, but that’s changing for 2019, as the Cup series has opted for a high-downforce package with less power than last year.
That rules change could play right into the hands of drivers such as Suarez who have enjoyed success in the Xfinity Series but have struggled a bit more once they reached the Cup series.
Personable and talented, Suarez has an opportunity to reach a new level in new equipment for a new team. Whether that next step will happen in 2019 is the question.
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2019 Cup Championship: 40/1 (per Sportsbook.ag)