LAS VEGAS — Report by Race Chaser Online Northeast Correspondent Kyle Magda — Todd Warshaw/Getty Images North America photo —
Daniel Suarez could see the back bumper of race leader Kyle Busch’s No. 18 NOS Energy Toyota in the closing laps of Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300.
While scoring a runner-up finish before in his NASCAR XFINITY Series career, Suarez came within .817 seconds of claiming his first series victory during his sophomore campaign.
“Everyone in the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota Camry did a really good job,” Suarez said. “I think it was a clean day. Right there at the end, it took me a while to figure out how to be fast through traffic with a loose race car. Honestly, in the last 10-15 laps, maybe we were the fastest race car out there.”
He and eventual race winner Busch both went the final 62 circuits on fuel, while Erik Jones finished third to make it a 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch didn’t pull far away from the 2015 NXS Rookie of the Year on the last run as Suarez ran no more than a second behind Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“I want to thank Joe Gibbs Racing because it’s so much fun to have fast race cars like that,” Suarez said. “Everyone’s worked super hard in the winter and now it’s paying off slowly. Proud of my guys and looking forward to next week.”
Suarez enters next weekend’s race at Phoenix with the points lead for the first time in his XFINITY career, unofficially, three points ahead of veteran Elliott Sadler, who lost fifth in points to Suarez after the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I think it’s too early, we’re just three races into the season and with the new Chase format, anything can happen,” Suarez said about points. “You need to win a race to be safe and lock yourself into the Chase. At the same time, we can win the race and we don’t have a shot to win the race, but we need to keep working on being consistent; we’re too inconsistent.”
The consistency shows for the No. 19 ARRIS team this season with the speed shown by Suarez. He knows more now about the tracks and race paces to run up front every week. A slow stop during a lap 75 caution put the 24-year-old driver just outside the top-five, but wasted no time in going towards the front to tie his best-career series finish of second, which came at Bristol Motor Speedway last spring.
JGR had two former winners in their respectable cars (Ky. Busch and Erik Jones) both winning at least a race in 2015. Suarez is on the cusp of adding his name on the team’s shop banner en route to a possible championship run with the speed shown from the Gibbs bunch in the first two 1.5-mile races of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedwayand Las Vegas.
The Mexican driver has yet to beat NXS teammate and Cup interloper Kyle Busch in a race, and Saturday could have been a preview of what the rest of the season has in store.