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Suarez Finds Self In Unfamiliar Situation in Daytona

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 13 2020

Daniel Suarez has moved over to Gaunt Brothers Racing and Toyota for 2020. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Daniel Suarez enters his fourth NASCAR Cup season facing a challenge he’s never experienced before, having to race his way into the Daytona 500.

In Suarez’s previous three seasons, he’s been with an established team that possessed a charter, guaranteeing that organization a starting spot in the prestigious season opener. This year, however, he’s driving for Gaunt Brothers Racing, a team that has never raced full time in any of  NASCAR’s top three touring series.

“I have flashbacks, actually, from 2016 when I had to go and race for the (Xfinity) championship in Homestead,” Suarez said about having to race into the Daytona 500 during Wednesday’s Media Day at Daytona International Speedway. 

“I feel like it’s kind of similar, right? Similar mindset that you have to have. You have to go out there and execute. No mistakes. Control what you can control.”

In addition to Suarez, the other drivers who must race their way into Sunday’s Daytona 500 are Reed Sorenson, Timmy Hill, J.J. Yeley and Chad Finchum. Justin Haley and Brendan Gaughan also drive for teams that don’t possess a charter, but they have already earned a starting spot in the field via their qualifying speeds last weekend. 

Suarez is in Thursday night’s first Bluegreen Vacations Duel along with Sorenson and Finchum. Hill and Yeley are in the second. 

The 28-year-old Suarez admitted that he didn’t know where the balance was between being aggressive and not putting himself in a position where he would get eliminated from the event. 

 “I will have to figure that out as I’m on the race track, obviously.” Suarez said. “The first half of the race just be aggressive, not too crazy. After the pit stop it’s go time.

“We just have to be calm, be patient. I don’t feel like anyone is going to be crazy aggressive out there because everyone wants to keep their primary (car). I have to use that to my advantage. The problem is that we don’t have the car, the body, and the chassis, not the newest and greatest car that we can lower the car that much. When we’re in the draft, we’re as good as anyone. We need engine for the draft. We need the car for raw speed. Unfortunately, we don’t have the car, but we have the engine.”  

Suarez and his team have a plan for the race, but it still comes down to execution. And he hopes the other Toyota drivers in his qualifying race will work with him.

“I feel a little pressure, but not that much,” Suarez said. “I have to control what I can control and do my job. It’s very unfortunate the charter situation. We’ve been in the market a couple months to buy one.” 

There are no charters available at this time.

Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing announced their deal less than two weeks before leaving for Daytona, which was the reason Suarez didn’t participate in the Busch Clash even though he was eligible.

“We did the best we could with the time that we had,” Suarez said. “I mean, we’re still looking for engineers, we’re still looking for one mechanic. We’re still looking to build a team. We are going to eventually build it. We have what it takes to do it. It’s just not easy to find the people around the corner. We don’t have simulation yet. We’re still working on the simulation program.” 

Suarez was thrust into the Cup Series in 2017 when Carl Edwards retired abruptly about a month before the Daytona 500. Then, at the end of 2018, Joe Gibbs Racing released him to make room for Martin Truex Jr. Suarez spent 2019 at Stewart-Haas Racing, but was released at the end of the season so Cole Custer could be elevated to that Ford team’s four-car Cup program for 2020.

“In my career I have gone through a lot of difficult times, a lot of good times, also,” Suarez said. “They have made me the person I am today. I feel like I’m a tough person.”

With JGR and SHR, Suarez stepped into established teams and was expected to adapt. It’s different this year though. Gaunt Brothers Racing is transitioning into a fulltime team and building its future around Suarez. That provides the young Mexican with a lot of “excitement.”

 “It’s something very different that three years ago I wasn’t even thinking about,” Suarez continued. “It’s an excellent opportunity for myself. I feel like in the past I have had different experiences where things have not worked out my way, the time hadn’t been right, the team starts coming apart and they start taking everything apart. I don’t feel that will happen here. We know where we are at and where we want to go.”

Suarez noted he also was happy to be back with Toyota. 

“Toyota has been one of the best sponsors, supporters that I ever had,” Suarez said. “Some of you guys don’t know, but Toyota and I, we go way back since before I moved to the U.S. I was supported by Toyota Mexico. Then I came here to the diversity program supported by Toyota. The national series by Toyota, I mean, we have made history together. 

“To be very honest with you, last year I missed Toyota the most. Toyota is a great manufacturer. They pay a lot of attention to detail. There’s a lot of great people in this organization. (I’m) just very proud to be back with this group of people.” 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 13 2020
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