By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
A mistake-filled day could not stop Daniel Suarez from a top-10 finish in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Late-race pit strategy by crew chief Billy Scott put Suarez in the top-five for the final 14-lap run to the finish. The No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang was one of four cars that did not pit on the final caution. With worn tires, Suarez slipped backwards and took the checkered flag in eighth.
Prior to the final caution, Suarez hovered around 10th. A pit road speeding penalty cost him valuable track position on lap 255. 17 laps later, Suarez was penalized for pitting outside the box.
Although Suarez had been legal inside the box, as he exited, a crew member removed tape from the grille. NASCAR’s PRO system caught the violation, with officials penalizing the 27-year-old one lap. Suarez remained trapped one lap down until lap 416 when he earned the free pass.
“Today was difficult,” Suarez admitted. “We made a lot of mistakes that we were lucky to overcome and finish in the top 10. I’m proud of that. We have to keep better, but it’s kind of good that we’re making these mistakes now so we can clean them up and be stronger in the second part of the season.”
With the importance of track position, Suarez started at a disadvantage after he qualified 20th. The Monterrey, Mexico native didn’t break into the top-10 until the end of the second stage, just before he was penalized for speeding on pit road.
Although Suarez was mired deep in the field for much of the race, he was the fastest car for several laps. Timing kept the Stewart-Haas Racing driver trapped a lap down until lap 416.
“We have a very good team,” Suarez explained. “We have great race cars and it’s always good to perform well. Today, we had a lot of speed. I felt like we had top five speed at times and when we’re not very good we have top 10 speed and that’s where we ended up, so after all of those mistakes it was still a decent day.”
The eighth-place finish is the fourth top-10 for Suarez this season and the 25th of his career.
It also moved Suarez from 14th to 12th in the championship points standings, 151-points behind race winner and points leader Kyle Busch. He is also just 23-points ahead of the cutoff for the playoffs held by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.