The ‘Road to the Playoffs’ for Daniel Suarez May Come On A Road Course

August 18, 2023

Trackhouse driver Daniel Suarez of Monterrey, Mexico believes his best path to the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs comes on a road course.

This weekend is the second of back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series races on road courses as the series heads to the famed Watkins Glen International for Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen.

Suarez won the pole at last weekend’s Verizon 200 at the Brickyard on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and led six laps in the 82-lap race.

He was a major contender for the victory, but on his final pit stop while the race was running green, the hose of the air gun was stuck under his left-front tire. The extra time to get the hose freed was costly because the final 77 laps of the race were green-flag, high-speed racing.

Suarez finished third.

“We win and we lose as a team, and that's all I can say,” Suarez said afterward. “The guys brought a very fast race car. I felt that maybe we were one adjustment behind in the first run with the back of the car, but then we made it a little bit better.

“But I felt like I was always one step behind the 9 (Chase Elliott) and the 34 (race winner Michael McDowell), and then at the end, I felt that when my car came alive again, we had that issue.

“Just a little bit heartbreaking, but that's part of the sport. All we can do is continue to push, continue to build race cars like this, and I'll keep on winning races. I can't thank everyone at Trackhouse Racing, all our sponsors, Freeway Insurance, all the people that help us to perform this way.

“I have never been that upset with a third-place finish. But that's a good thing. That only means we know what we are capable of. We will analyze everything and get better together."

On the positive, Suarez gained three points for Stage 1 and five points for Stage 3.

Those points are important because the Trackhouse driver may have to get into the Playoffs based on NASCAR Cup Series points.

He can make it easy on his effort by simply winning a race before the cutoff race next weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

The path to the playoffs could come on the Watkins Glen road course.

"We just need to keep doing what we are doing,” Suarez said. “That's qualify well and earn stage points and get a good finish. There is still a lot of racing left and we know we can do this. If we have as good a car at Watkins Glen as we had at Indianapolis, we know we can win there. That's true about Daytona as well."

Before looking ahead to this weekend, Suarez had a fast Chevrolet in last week’s road course race at Indianapolis. He claimed his first pole of the season and his third overall with a fast lap at 99.814 miles per hour in the No. 99 Chevrolet.

“I felt like the No. 99 Freeway.com Chevy was very strong today,” Suarez said after the race. “We just lacked a little bit of speed the first half of the race. We made a mistake as a team during the last pit cycle, which was probably the most important one. But we will continue to build and get better. We’ll continue to build race cars like this and hopefully we’ll have another shot next week at Watkins Glen.

“I think the speed that we had today was definitely very promising. I think that my entire team did a great job. We’ll try again next year.

“Definitely we can perform I think even better. I'm pretty sure we're going to go back, analyze everything, and come back stronger next week.”

Next week is here for Suarez and Trackhouse and it’s a trip to the famed Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York.

Watkins Glen International is one of the most famous road racing courses in the United States and was once home to the United States Grand Prix Formula One contest.

It has also hosted IndyCar, IMSA Sports Cars and the old Can-Am Series.

This week, it’s the NASCAR Cup Series at Watkins Glen.

“Personally, I’m not really paying much attention to the points right now,” Suarez admitted. “I’m just trying to focus on one race at a time. Obviously once in a while, it’s impossible not to look at the points because everyone is talking about it. Everyone is posting about it. 

“I feel pretty good about it, and I believe that we’re going to be very strong at Watkins Glen.”

Suarez has more control over his playoff destiny at Watkins Glen – a road course that rewards driver skill – than next weekend’s restrictor-plate mayhem at Daytona International Speedway.

“Obviously, Daytona is a free card for everyone,” Suarez said. “Honestly, I’m not thinking that far ahead, but I think Daytona is going to be a little bit more crazy than before because there’s so many good drivers, good teams, good cars that are on that bubble. 

“I mean you have the No. 48 (Alex Bowman), the No. 9 (Chase Elliott), myself, the No. 54 (Ty Gibbs) – you just have too many.”

Suarez made NASCAR Cup Series history in 2022 when he became the first driver from Mexico to score a win in NASCAR’s top division. That victory came on the road course at Sonoma Raceway.

The victory put him into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. He was on pace to easily make it into the “Round of Eight” at last year’s BankofAmerica ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but the power steering on his Chevrolet failed.

Suarez spent the rest of the race having to arm wrestle his Chevrolet around the demanding circuit.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t overcome the issue and missed the cutoff that would have advanced him into the next round.

In 2023, Suarez and his team have had to deal with adversity in several of the races but have shown improvement during the summer portion of the schedule.

“I think the mentality of the No. 99 team hasn’t changed in the last couple of months,” Suarez explained. “We have to continue to focus on one race at a time - try to maximize the potential of the race car and try to win a race. 

“I think that my racing has come through a lot of adversity this year,” Suarez said. “We have had a few mistakes on execution. I have made some mistakes. 

“In the first quarter of the year, we were extremely fast, but we were making a lot of mistakes – in execution and myself. We were not having clean weekends. 

“And then we started getting cleaner and then the speed wasn’t there anymore. 

“You have to have everything together and it’s not easy. It’s not easy to put everything together. I can tell you in the last few weeks, it’s been tough at Trackhouse. I say that they’ve been tough because we’ve had long meetings – we’ve had difficult conversations to be better because we showed up a few weekends and we were not good at all. 

“Pretty much after Nashville, if you look at our results, they were not very good, besides Atlanta, where we finished second. But overall, we needed more speed. We were lacking some speed, so we had to go to work, and we had to get out of our comfortable zone. We had to get out of that box. 

“I’m really proud of how we’ve been reacting to that and it’s definitely showing the last couple of weeks.”

And that has given Suarez and the team hope that over the next two weeks, the Trackhouse driver can make it into the Playoff field, either through points or with a race win.

“I told my team last week – this was exactly what we needed,” he said. “The energy has been great. The guys have been working very hard. I’ve been working very hard, and it shows. 

“We have to continue to work and execute.”

As entertainer Sir Sly would say in the 2021 alternative album “The Rise & Fall of Loverboy”, Suarez “Welcomes the Pressure.”

“This is fun,” Suarez admitted. “This is what we like to do. If we are relaxed, we will perform our best. 

“We are excited about going to Watkins Glen. We want the trophy. That's what matters. I don't even think about points or what someone else is doing. 

“We control what we can control.”

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