Joe Gibbs Racing begins new era with birthday boy Daniel Suarez

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Depending on how you look at it, Daniel Suarez‘ best birthday gift came either four days late or one year early.

About 10 minutes after the Carl Edwards era in the No. 19 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing ended, the Suarez era began.

Suarez, who turned 25 on Jan. 7, was introduced as Edwards’ successor in a press conference at the team’s headquarters Wednesday morning.

“I wasn’t expecting to be in this position right now,” said Suarez, who made history in 2016 by becoming the first foreign-born driver to win a national NASCAR title, capturing the Xfinity championship. “It’s been an amazing time. This is hard to believe that I’m in this position. We started all this dream 10 years ago with NASCAR, and right now to be in this position, to be in this opportunity is just something amazing for me and for everyone that has been helping me.”

Suarez said he expected to make the jump to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next year.

While the rest of the NASCAR community had spent the last 24 hours getting caught up on Edwards’ January surprise, the native of Monterrey, Mexico, had been in on the secret for a while. At some point after Christmas, Suarez was informed of the biggest news of his career during lunch with his girlfriend, Silvia, and her family.

“I was actually in the middle of everything, and I got a call,” Suarez recalled. “I had to jump out of the middle of lunch, and then I never came back after 40 minutes. And then when I came back, Silvia and her parents, they were asking me what was going on because I came back with a (big smile). So they were asking me what was going on. Well, really I wasn’t able to say anything, so I didn’t say anything.”

But on Wednesday, 46 days before the Daytona 500 and his first start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Suarez could say everything.

“Very, very happy for this opportunity,” Suarez said. “It’s something that we really were waiting for. It came a little bit sooner than what we were expecting, but I think we are ready, and we’re ready to go, and we are ready to start learning about everything and ready to perform well.”

Suarez has already been exposed to the impact of his historic NASCAR title, which came after he won three Xfinity races. Suarez came face-to-face with it when he attended an exhibition NASCAR Mexico Series race earlier in the offseason in Mexico City.

“I was expecting a good welcome as a champion, but what I lived in that moment, just, I don’t know, five, six hours, it was just unbelievable,” Suarez said. “I felt like I was like … a rock star. Everyone was thanking me and everyone was asking me for pictures. Actually some big names in México, they were asking me for pictures, where normally three years ago I was asking them for pictures. So it was something huge.”

For Joe Gibbs, the alumni of the NASCAR Next and Drive for Diversity program was “the obvious choice” to fill the unexpected vacancy created by Edwards.

Gibbs championed the two years of work Suarez put in driving in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series and his selflessness.

“We have a lot of things where we have sponsors come in here and do different two‑ and three‑day events, and we’d be down at the bowling alley with a sponsor that had nothing to do with Daniel,” Gibbs said. “I’d turn around and there he is, he’s bowling. Or he’s at the pit and driving the go‑karts and stuff like that.”

Even with the state of flux Edwards is now in, Gibbs hopes the driver who won five races for him in two Cup seasons will be part of Suarez’s transition.

“What we have discussed with (Edwards) is continuing to work with us and continuing to work inside of NASCAR, and we’ve got some things coming up,” Gibbs said, adding he hopes Edwards can attend Suarez’s first test later this month at Phoenix International Raceway.

“He’s going to help Daniel and our support group, but then there’s going to be other things that we’ve kind of been thinking about with Carl. So hopefully that’s what we’ll see in the future going forward.”

Suarez’ first time in the No 19 car is still 19 days away, but he’s itching to get started.

“I can’t wait to drive that car,” Suarez said. “I wish I could take it to the street right now.”

In need of a wedding singer? Call Steven Tyler

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 05:  Singer Steven Tyler performs during his "Out on a Limb" tour at the Dolby Theatre on July 5, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ABA)
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ABA
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Steven Tyler has performed with Aerosmith in a video for ESPN back when it broadcast NASCAR races. Tyler also has performed before the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Now, he’s played Kurt Busch‘s wedding.

What more is left for the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer?

Tyler performed at a celebration for the marriage of Kurt and Ashley Busch earlier this month. Kurt Busch posted a photo of the evening.

That NASCAR-themed video Tyler did with Aerosmith for the 2007 season? Here it is:

Before he performed at Bristol in Aug. 2015, Tyler met Richard Petty:

Chip Ganassi Racing adds competition director

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Team owner Chip Ganassi looks on as drivers perpare on Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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Chip Ganassi Racing has hired Mark McArdle to be its competition director, a new position for the organization.

McArlde will oversee the team’s two Cup teams — Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray — and its Xfinity operation, which features Brennan Poole, Tyler Reddick, Justin Marks and Larson.

McArdle had been with Roush Fenway Racing. He joined the team in Nov. 2014 to oversee engineering for its Cup and Xfinity programs. He previously had been director of racing operations at Richard Childress Racing, joining that organization in April 2013. He spent four years before that at Furniture Row Racing, overseeing the team’s competition department.

At Ganassi, McArdle will report to Max Jones, team manager.

Last year marked the first time in the team’s history that it had two cars make the Cup playoffs. Both Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray, though, failed to advance from the first round. Larson, who had one win, finished ninth in the points. McMurray, who was winless, placed 13th.

“I think everybody in the building feels like we took a good step forward last year,’’ said Steve Lauletta, president of Chip Ganassi Racing. “We’re not happy with the step we took. We have more to do. So, being able to bring more of the leadership into the building that can focus on how we get there, the process that we need, we continue to bring on more people.

“I think Max feels like another person can help us make sure that everybody is focused on the right thing and we’re not wasting time and resources. Mark brings a tremendous amount of expertise to continue that growth that we’ve seen.’’

JR Motorsports to keep championship-contending tandem together

SPARTA, KY - JULY 07:  Elliott Sadler, driver of the #1 OneMain Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Alsco 300 at Kentucky Speedway on July 7, 2016 in Sparta, Kentucky.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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JR Motorsports confirmed Tuesday that crew chief Kevin Meendering will remain with Elliott Sadler this season.

Meendering and Sadler recorded three Xfinity wins last year in their first season together. Meendering also helped Sadler score a career-best 29 top-10 results and finish runner-up for the series title to Daniel Suarez.

The announcement was included in a team release about Hunt Brothers Pizza serving as the primary sponsor for Sadler’s car in two races in each of the next two seasons.

Wood Brothers give a tour of new race shop

LOUDON, NH - JULY 15:  Ryan Blaney, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 16, 2016 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images
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The Wood Brothers begin this season not only with a charter but with a new home.

The team had shared a building with JTG Daugherty in Harrisburg, North Carolina, but moved after last season to a shop in Mooresville, North Carolina. The move puts the Wood Brothers closer to Team Penske. The two organizations are aligned.

The Wood Brothers will again have Ryan Blaney as driver. The team also has a charter, leasing it from Go Fas Racing. That means the Wood Brothers team is guaranteed a starting spot in every Cup race this year, unlike last year when they did not have a charter.