By David Morgan, Associate Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas – Daniel Suarez comes into the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs already at a points deficit, but that hasn’t tempered the expectations he has for himself and his No. 99 Trackhouse Racing team starting this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
Winning his way into the Playoffs via his first career Cup win at Sonoma earlier this season, the 30-year-old Mexican-born driver comes into Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 sitting 11th in points out of the 12 remaining Playoff drivers, six points below the cut-off line.
“Somebody has to win it, so why not?” Suarez said of his team’s chances of being in the title fight at season’s end. “In the beginning of the year, [team owner] Justin Marks said something that, at least in my mind, really stuck. He said ‘Why not us?’
“The only thing that we don’t have is the experience and the numbers many of the other teams do have. We have the people. We have the sponsors. We have the manufacturer support. So why not? I think that we haven’t got to this point by luck. We have to continue to do our thing and see where this is going to get us.”
Starting with this weekend at Texas, where Suarez finished in the top-10 last fall and banked a top-five finish in the All-Star Race, the second round of the Playoffs also features races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval. Despite the unpredictability of this three-race stretch, Suarez is confident that he will be able to make it through the gauntlet and advance onto the next round.
“I think it’s a good round,” Suarez said. “We performed very well in the All-Star Race. We started last and were competing for the win. Talladega, I think we can be smart. We can hopefully have a little bit of luck on our side. I think if we can break-even at Talladega, no gain, no lose, I think we’re going to be in good shape. I know I can take care of myself here in Texas and I know I can take care on a road course.”
Suarez added that even this far into the season, there is not a favorite for the championship as teams continue to learn and evolve with the Next Gen car, noting it will be about who maximizes at the right time and capitalizes at season’s end.
“Three months ago, there was a favorite. Two months ago, there was a favorite. A month ago, there was a favorite. And it keeps changing. Teams are getting smarter. Drivers are getting smarter. Let’s see who gets smarter at the right time.
“We have to be smart. We have to push the limits in a smart way. Make good decisions, be consistent, and get the stage points. I think we have been working very hard to be a better team on Saturdays. That is something that has been hurting us. We are a very good team on Sunday, but on Saturday, we have been struggling a little bit. We have to be better on Saturdays and that is going to lead us in a better direction for Sunday.”
When the green flag drops at Texas, Suarez will roll off from 10th place as he hopes to kick this round off on a high note. Sunday’s 334-lap race is scheduled for 3:30 pm ET on USA Network.