By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway wasn’t the night for pole sitter Daniel Suarez to make it three straight races won by a first-time winner, as he finished eighth at the 1.5-mile circuit.
After dominating the first 49 laps of the evening, a set of bad luck ranging from different strategies to a speeding penalty knocked him out of contention.
Following the opening caution caused by Chase Elliott on Lap 47, Suarez brought his No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang to pit road for the ideal four tires. Problem was for those who went with four lost valuable track position as those who opted for two were able to hang on to their coveted spots.
Suarez restarted and ultimately finished the stage in 14th as track position at Kentucky was everything and in this case, four tires didn’t panned out.
Outside of leading Laps 246-248, he would never see himself in front of the field as he reported of having a tight handling car.
When he pitted before the start of Stage 2, Suarez’s car was adjusted and the crew changed right side tires with again track positions being an issue as the top-seven stayed out.
His race would get worse on the 100th lap as Suarez reported over the radio that he might’ve had a loose right rear wheel, but the team felt it was tight. Six laps later, he pitted for four tires and went back onto the track.
Then NASCAR called him back to the pits as he was penalized for speeding on pit road, with the punishment being a pass thru. This knocked him from being a race winning contender to losing two laps and running 33rd. Suarez ended up 29th in the stage.
Suarez’s name wouldn’t pop in the top-10 until very late in the race when an accident by Jimmie Johnson on Lap 179 put him back on the lead lap.
From there, the pole sitter, tight car and everything, picked up positions one car at a time and in the closing stages of the race, he was running in ninth. While Kurt Busch went on to win in a thrilling finish, Suarez gained more spot to wrap-up his seventh top-10 of the season.
It’s his first top-10 result since finishing fourth at Michigan last month after three subpar finishes, including his first-career last-place finish last Sunday at Daytona.
“It was an eventful night for sure. We just had a fast race car but we got a bit tight. I feel like we made the car better but we never got the track position back,” Suarez on his eventful night. “We had a tire going down and then I was speeding coming to pit road because I was wheel hopping because of the tire. It was one problem after another.
“We were fast enough to overcome that but not enough to get a better finish. I feel like the good thing is that we have the speed we just have to keep working to have a cleaner day and keep working to try to keep that speed the whole race.”
Suarez felt the first pit stop and multiple cautions before getting back on the lead lap truly bit him from making an even further recovery from the speeding penalty.
“It is. I feel like the first stage the call that we made on four tires instead of two tires kind of messed us up a little bit. That is part of it. We made our bed on that,” Suarez explained. “There was one caution after another and we couldn’t recover. After that we had the flat tire. It was just bad decisions and a little bad luck but we were able to overcome with a decent finish.”
A nice turnaround it was, but he’s still two markers behind Ryan Newman from being inside the playoff cutline with just seven regular seasons races remaining including