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.”