By David Morgan, Associate Editor
With the laps winding down in Sunday’s Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway, Daniel Suarez found himself in the catbird seat, with his No. 99 Chevrolet at the front of the field.
Unfortunately, defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson had other plans, powering past Suarez with two laps to go, causing him to fade to fourth place by the time the checkered flag flew and leaving the Trackhouse Racing team wondering what could have been.
Starting the day in 15th, Suarez found himself all the way down in 28th place at one point during the race, but battled back as the laps clicked away, eventually climbing back inside the top-10.
Despite bouncing off the wall while battling with Erik Jones, Suarez held steady in the top-10 when the final caution of the day flew on lap 193. After quick work by his pit crew, Suarez advanced up to second place heading into the final restart with four laps to go.
That’s when things got interesting for Suarez and the No. 99 team.
Restarting on the bottom lane with Larson up top, the two Chevrolets were neck and neck for the first half-lap before Joey Logano made it three-wide momentarily heading into Turn 3, allowing Larson to have the advantage heading on to the frontstretch.
Not to be denied, Suarez got a helpful push from Jones, which gave him a head of steam heading into Turn 1 with three laps to go, pulling his car to the bottom lane and clearing Larson by the time the field reached the backstretch.
With a car length advantage heading back into Turn 3, Suarez elected to take the bottom lane, handing the top lane over to Larson. Unfortunately, this would be Suarez’s undoing.
Using the momentum from the high lane to his advantage, Larson rapidly closed on Suarez’s car, pulling the crossover heading back to the line to re-take the lead with two laps to go.
Suarez kept up the fight, but with Larson pulling away out of his windshield and the trailing cars of Austin Dillon and Jones able to pass him, Suarez would fall to fourth, where he would ultimately end the race.
“We’re going to win a few races very soon here,” Suarez said. “I just can’t thank everyone enough on my team. We had a fast car, but we went through a lot of adversity. We had a few issues. We hit the wall once. We had an issue with a diffuser. My pit crew, those guys are legends, it’s unbelievable.
“It’s the best pit crew I’ve ever had, and it’s a lot of fun to race like that. The Freeway Insurance Chevrolet, everyone that helps Trackhouse out, to be able to be here and perform this way… I can tell you that I’m going to work very, very hard to go to Victory Lane very, very soon here.”
After Sunday’s near-miss, Suarez and Trackhouse will look to keep up the momentum next weekend when the Cup Series season continues at Las Vegas. The Pennzoil 400 is scheduled for 3:30 pm Eastern next Sunday on FOX.
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