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Clearly, Suarez’s victory at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway last summer – his first in the series in 195 career starts at the time – was a huge accomplishment. He also became the first native Mexican driver to win a series race.
But in terms of which race in 2002 may have illustrated he and his No. 99 Trackhouse’s development as contenders, Suarez points to last fall’s race at the Charlotte Roval.
Suarez, 30, was poised to advance to the Round of 8 in the series playoffs with a solid finish and by the third stage, he basically needed to finish in the Top 25 in the race to have enough points to advance.
However, late in the race, Suarez lost the power steering in his car, something that’s never good but especially difficult on a road course and particularly in the Next Gen car.
Determined to stay on the track, Suarez muscled his way through the pain to the end, getting only one break during a scheduled pit stop. Suarez finished 36th, five laps down, and missed the cut to advance by nine points.
Daniel Suarez, TrackHouse Racing, CommScope Chevrolet Camaro
Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images
“I think that was probably one of my highlights of the year along with the win. That race was tough. As a team, we did everything, actually, to win,” he said. “I don’t think there is one person out there in this industry that will say we didn’t deserve to transfer to the next (playoff) round.
“We were sitting in the perfect position to do so. When then happened, everything went backwards. I went into Stage 3 with my team telling me I just had to finish inside the Top 25, which on a road course was a piece of cake for us.
“After (losing power steering), I was fighting for my life. It was tough. At the end of the day, you know, I left the track knowing 100-percent I gave everything I got. I didn’t have any energy left. That was the most important thing for me. We have to learn from those lessons and continue to do better. No excuses. We have to do a better job.”
Suarez said the experience “definitely” showed something to his team but also to himself.
“That race, in my opinion, showed my entire team that we are there to fight and regardless of how difficult the road may be, we have to continue to fight and give everything that we have,” he said. “That’s part of racing.
“It’s why we love the sport so much because it’s not easy when you have the best car and it’s not easy when you have a car with issues. That’s the difference between the good drivers and the great drivers, in my opinion, and great teams as well.
“I’m sure this year you guys are going to see an even better No. 99 team than what you guys saw last year.”
Still, earning his first Cup Series victory was an important milestone for Suarez, who at one point faced an uncertain future in the sport before landing with Trackhouse Racing.
Suarez became the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR national series race in 2016 with his Xfinity Series victory at Michigan. He went on to win the 2016 Xfinity championship with Joe Gibbs Racing and moved to the Cup Series fulltime in 2017.
But Suarez had a difficult time translating his Xfinity success at the Cup level during tenures with JGR, Stewart-Haas Racing and Gaunt Brothers until joining Trackhouse for its debut season in 2021.
After some growing pains in 2021, Suarez earned his first series win, qualified for the playoffs and finished 10th in the final 2022 series standings.
“The best part was to be able to get (the first win) off my back, you know. Because it was on my back for a few years and it’s not easy,” he said. “It’s not easy to win in the Cup Series just because the competition is tough, you’re fighting with the best drivers, the best teams, the pit crews – it’s not easy.
“I have a great team behind me now and I’m very, very happy to continue to be able to do that and challenge for more wins in the 2023 season. I think this year isn’t really any different after winning (last year), it just shows that for sure we belong here and we have a great team.”