By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Restrictor plate racing requires teamwork. Whether it’s a driver’s teammate or partnering with a driver who runs the same manufacturer. For Joe Gibbs Racing driver Daniel Suarez, not only he was the lone Gibbs driver, he ran the first Can-Am Duel without another Toyota driver in the field.
Despite an alliance disadvantage, Suarez overcame a Lap 9 spin to finish eighth Thursday. Suarez scored three championship points and will start 17th for Sunday’s 60th Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
“It was okay. We have some work to do,” Suarez said. “It was definitely fast, we just have to make the car handle a little bit better.”
Wasting no time at the start of the race, Suarez went from his fourth starting position to the lead entering the backstretch. His time at the front was short lived as Joey Logano passed Suarez entering the tri-oval and led the first lap.
From there, Logano and his Penske teammates (Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski) took control of the race while Suarez faded back to ninth after five laps.
Then on Lap 9, Jimmie Johnson’s right rear let go, collecting Aric Almirola and both failed to finish.
Suarez was running behind Almirola and spun his car to avoid the two-car crash. His No. 19 Arris Toyota slid into the infield, corrected his car back straight and pitted for new fresh tires and taped both sides of his hood. After multiple repairs, Suarez restarted 13th.
Suarez said the elevation change at Daytona affected the car’s handling.
“There was some change with elevation in the race track, so I just went through there,” Suarez added. “These cars are so low right now, with the elevation change in the asphalt, it killed everything.”
For the remainder of the race, Suarez stayed in the lead draft and worked his way up to eighth at after 30 laps. However, he had to go through another wreck avoidance before his night was done.
Suarez drove past a careening Keselowski at the end of the backstretch and made it through unscathed, restarting sixth in overtime.
On the restart, Suarez was out of winning contention after going three wide with several drivers. Ryan Blaney crossed the line first while the lone Toyota finished eighth.
“It is a challenge because you cannot do anything,” Suarez said. “You can make moves, but I was pretty sure no one was going to go with me. I was just a passenger tonight, but that will be different Sunday.”