STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Column by Race Chaser Online Associate Editor Kyle Magda — Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America photo —
Last August, Joe Gibbs Racing announced they would put K&N Pro Series East driver Daniel Suarez in a full-time XFINITY Series ride for 2015 with ARRIS sponsoring the No. 18 car. Suarez began the 2014 K&N East season with back-to-back victories, but that pair were the only series wins on the young driver’s U.S. resume heading into 2015.
The Rev Racing driver set his sights on NASCAR’s second-tier series and the dream of running full-time in 2015 was realized with JGR.
When the announcement was first made about Suarez running NXS full-time, I was one of the skeptics on whether he would perform or not in that series. The deal also included 13 Camping World Truck Series races with Kyle Busch Motorsports, as well as four ARCA starts with Venturini Motorsports.
I felt like the move to the XFINITY Series was too soon for Suarez, who had some success in K&N East and also in NASCAR’s Mexico Series. When an up-and-coming driver makes the jump to NASCAR’s second-tier series, my hope is that they don’t wreck each and every week.
On Saturday morning before the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway, the thing I did not hope to see, especially by a rookie driver, happened.
Suarez sparked a crash during NXS qualifying, forcing the No. 18 to pull out the back-up for the race and stalling a run of Speedweeks momentum.
The promising rookie started off with a top-10 run in the Truck race in his KBM debut. He pulled out of line late in the race, but no one went with the Mexican-born driver. The week before, Suarez finished second to ARCA Daytona winner Grant Enfinger in the Lucas Oil 200.
At that point, I actually thought maybe this rookie driver isn’t as bad as I expected him to be.
After another crash in the Daytona XFINITY race itself, the first few weeks of Suarez’s rookie campaign were quiet, even picking up his first-career top-10 finish in March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS).
With all the craziness that came about when a late caution flew during a cycle of green-flag pit stops in the Boyd Gaming 300 at LVMS, that wasn’t the race that the JGR driver got my attention.
One week after his teammate Erik Jones won his first-career NXS race at Texas Motor Speedway, Suarez took to the .533 mile Bristol Motor Speedway. He had two previous starts there in K&N East before tackling the track once again.
Now, when the series goes to a track like Bristol and on a companion weekend with the Cup Series, everyone expects a Cup driver to pull out the victory.
The last sentence proved to be true as Joey Logano led every lap of the Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 at Bristol. But ignoring Logano’s dominating performance, that didn’t catch my eye as much.
The fact that Daniel Suarez finished the race in second really spoke volumes to me. The decision that I hoped JGR didn’t regret last August made me believe that this driver is for real, with only nine NXS races under his belt.
Momentum from his runner-up finish at Bristol continued to the Truck Series side, as he was on the cusp of winning at Kansas before the fuel tank in the No. 51 truck went dry. In fact, the whole fleet of KBM trucks appeared to be cursed, after leader Erik Jones dominated on the day and ran out of gas as well with six laps to go.
Fuel was brought up again at Iowa for Suarez, but this time in the XFINITY Series race there. He led 48 laps early on in the event before hovering around the top-five, top-10 from there on out. A late caution made many drivers and teams nervous with fuel, but the No. 18 team wasn’t so lucky with the fuel-mileage race. Suarez brought the car down pit road and only salvaged an 18th-place finish in the end, even though the finish may have not shown where he was capable of running at.
Another eye-opener for me was last month’s NXS race at Charlotte. Speaking again of quiet days, Suarez sneakily made his way into the top-10 of the Hisense 4K TV 300 and qualifying for the first of four races for XFINITY’s Dash for Cash program at Dover the next weekend.
A week after the sixth-place effort at Charlotte, he tallied back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Truck races at Dover and Texas.
I firmly believe Daniel Suarez will get a win in the next month, whether it be the ARCA, XFINITY or Truck Series. Suarez’s next scheduled truck race is in July at Kentucky Speedway, a track where he led laps in last September’s ARCA event there.
He also returns to an ARCA car this coming weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, so the possibilities are endless for the 23-year-old driver to taste victory lane for the first time in the 2015 racing season.
Just look at the progression in results. It’s speaking to a lot of people, and it’s speaking to me.
JGR was right in bringing this young talent into their fold. And for once, I’m glad to eat my criticisms with some crow, because Daniel Suarez has proved me wrong.
He does deserve to be called a contender in NASCAR’s second-highest series, and he’s quickly making his mark.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.