By Mike Hembree, NASCAR Wire Service
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – The phone call interrupted Daniel Suarez’s lunch. He didn’t mind.
Team owner Joe Gibbs was calling with the surprising news that Suarez, winner of the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship last season, would be promoted to drive the team’s No. 19 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota in 2017 as a replacement for Carl Edwards.
Edwards had told Gibbs about his decision to leave racing during the Christmas holidays.
“I was having lunch with my girlfriend and her family,” Suarez said Wednesday during a press conference announcing his new ride. “I had to jump out and answer the call, and I never came back after 40 minutes. When I came back Sylvia and her parents were asking what was going on because I came back with a smile like this.”
Suarez, 25, moves into a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup ride that is among the best in the garage.
“It came a little sooner than we expected, but we’re ready to go on,” the NASCAR Next alumnus said. “When you are with the right team, you know the opportunity will come. It will come at the right time. I have learned a lot in the XFINITY Series. I had an amazing team in 2016.
“I feel like everything that happened in 2016 in XFINITY helped me a lot to be ready for this opportunity. I feel like this will be a dream come true. Since I was 16, this has been something I’ve been dreaming about. To be here is something amazing.”
Gibbs called Suarez “the obvious choice” to replace Edwards. “He had an unbelievable year in XFINITY. We’ve been around Daniel for two-and-a-half years, and we think he’s ready to go.”
The Suarez move will establish a bit of history as the Mexican-born driver plants that country’s flag full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He started racing on Mexican short tracks and, with the support of a stream of Mexican sponsors and eventual involvement in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program, established himself as a potential star in higher series.
“A lot of people in Mexico saw me grow slowly when I was having a hard time speaking English and having a hard time finding sponsors to race,” Suarez said. “It’s very cool to be in this position. They are still supporting me in everything I race.”
The No. 19 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team will remain intact, with highly respected veteran Dave Rogers continuing as crew chief.
“It won’t be easy and we have a lot to work to do and a lot to learn, but I feel like it’s the perfect place to be for a rookie like me,” Suarez said.
Suarez was scheduled to run another full season in the XFINITY Series. Gibbs said plans are unsettled for the No. 19 XFINITY car, but that Suarez probably will run about 10 races and that the team’s other Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers – Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin – might drive in a few events.
Suarez joins a stout class of Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders that includes 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Erik Jones and four-time national series race winner Ty Dillon.