By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the top-30 drivers in the series leading into this month’s 60th running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 1
Career Wins: 0
With the surprise retirement of Carl Edwards after his championship-contending 2016 season, Daniel Suarez was promoted to the Cup Series earlier than anyone expected. Suarez was coming off a championship season himself, winning the XFINITY Series title on the strength of three wins and 19 top-five and 27 top-10 results.
Suarez lost the Sunoco Rookie of the Year battle last season to Erik Jones, but the Monterrey, Mexico native continued to improve throughout the year. Of Suarez’s 12 top-10 finishes, eight of those came in the second-half of the season.
More importantly, Suarez completed 95.3% of a possible 10,581 laps, allowing him to gain valuable experience on the variety of tracks on which the series competes. For comparison, fellow rookie Jones completed 90.1% of the laps in 2017. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon completed just 83.9% of the laps in his rookie campaign in 1993. Suarez made it clear that it’s very important for him to finish races and to spend time with the team improving instead of fixing his race car.
“We had several weekends where we were good, but good is not enough in the Cup Series,” Suarez said while reflecting on last year during the annual pre-season Charlotte Media Tour. “You have to be great. And to push those limits with your team, I think that that’s something that I learned, as well, last year, and to be patient. So many different races we had the opportunity to have a good day, and for one or another reason we didn’t, and I feel like that’s something, as well, that we learned last year to apply this year.”
In addition to the hurried start to the season as a result of Edwards stepping away, Suarez also endured a crew chief swap after five races as Dave Rogers took a leave of absence and Scott Graves took his place atop the pit box. The No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team also changed its top two engineers and its car chief since Suarez took over behind the wheel.
“Everything that we had last year was just for last year for many, many different reasons, and I feel like now having all the people together, all the people that we know are going to be together the entire year or even more than that, that just gives you more confidence and puts you in a more comfortable spot to know that you are going to have the commitment of everyone, and everyone is super excited to be working together.”
With one full season under his belt and a team that should stay in place throughout the 36-race season, Suarez has lofty goals for his 2018 performance that includes competing for the championship at Homestead-Miami come November in his No. 19 ARRIS Toyota.
“I think we can,” Suarez said of making the Championship Four. “I feel like right now it’s very early to say where we’re at because nobody really knows. But by the first half of the season I will let you know where we’re at.
“I can tell you something: We have the tools to do it. We have the team. We have the equipment. We have everything. We just have to work hard. That is not something new for us. Have fun, and achieve our goals. If we do that, we can do anything. We just have to go out there and do what we know how to do. Last year numbers‑wise wasn’t the year we were expecting, but we know that the changes and the adjustments that we’ve made are going to make a huge gain in our side.”
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