By Kent Whitaker
When Carl Edwards walked away from being a driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, he left fans standing with their mouths wide open. It was a complete surprise! Then another surprise took place – Xfinity driver Daniel Suárez was immediately picked to fill the seat of the No. 19 car for Joe Gibbs Racing.
To be fair, having Suárez named as the new driver was not a complete shock seeing that he was already in-house getting ready for a second full year in the Xfinity Series. The shocking part came with how fast Suárez would have to bone up on the faster, heavier, and different handling aspects of Cup Series cars.
Now Suárez readies for his first appearance at Bristol Motor Speedway in a Monster Energy Cup Series car. He has raced a handful of events in Xfinity and the Camping World Truck Series. We’ll get to that in a second. But for Suárez, at this point in the season, is it fair to ask if he can Tame Bristol? Can he start moving his team forward at Thunder Valley – also known as “The Last Great Colosseum”?
Taking Stock of the Season So Far
If you put it all into perspective, the season has been going well for Suárez despite the way fans normally judge a driver’s season. Push wins, finishes, laps led, and the like out of the conversation for a moment. I suggest you try to look at things from a Joe Gibbs No. 19 team standpoint. If you do, then there are plenty of great things going on in the Suárez camp.
For starters, the driver has appeared in only seven Cup starts since making the move from Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. Of those seven races, he’s only had one DNF. That came during the first race of 2017 where he went behind the wall early at the Daytona 500.
Since the Great American Race, Suárez has finished on the lead lap in four of the last six races. That’s called improvement and amazing for a driver with limited Cup Series seat time. Suárez seems happy about returning to Bristol as a Cup Series driver.
“I’m excited to be making my first-career Cup start at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. I really enjoy racing at Bristol and have loved it since making my first start a few years ago,” Suárez stated. “There really isn’t anything like racing at Bristol; from the atmosphere to the racing on the track, everything at Bristol is exciting. Hopefully we can go out and put a good show on for the fans and come away with a good finish in our ARRIS Camry this weekend.”
Moving Forward for the No. 19 Team
Heading into the Bristol race weekend for the Food City 500 Joe Gibbs Racing has every reason to be excited with the prospects of Suárez continuing with an improving season. Right now, he continues to hover around the top-twenty. A good run could move him further up the board towards being part of the play-offs.
The JGR playbook for Suárez could be a simple as letting the driver learn as much as he can with hopes of a top-twenty season in preparation for 2018. If that is the plan then they’ve already started to nail things down with only seven races so far.
So, if that plan is already working then what’s the next step? As of now the No. 19 team looks more and more like a veteran group. The cars are showing up with speed, and the driver and crew chief have been working together with few hiccups. The next move in the playbook might be to just let things naturally develop.
Click here to see my article when I talked about Jimmie Johnson and his ride at the Texas Motor Speedway.
It’s important to point out that Suárez is not a complete rookie when it comes to racing in the hills of Tennessee. In his career, he has four Bristol starts in the NASCAR XFINITY Series with two top-five finishes. He’s also started twice in the Camping World Truck Series with one race just outside the pole from the second spot.
And, he’s started at Bristol behind the wheel of K&N rides. The best route for the continuing development of Daniel Suárez for Joe Gibbs might be to just let him race Bristol with the knowledge he already has at the track.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kent Whitaker, often called 'the Deck Chef,' is a sportswriter, culinary writer, and cookbook author with fourteen titles. He covers NASCAR, racing in general, Football, barbecue, grilling, and tailgating. You can visit him on www.thedeckchef.com."