Daniel Suarez: ‘Everything has been happening very fast’

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Daniel Suarez doesn’t remember his first lap in a NASCAR Cup car, but he remembers the second.

“My second lap I was sideways, I can tell you that,” Suarez told NBC Sports in a Wednesday phone interview. “I’m one of those drivers I think I’m a little smart, but I drive the car (hard) every lap, I was trying to do it the second lap, which wasn’t very smart.”

Suarez recalled the experience while in Atlanta for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion’s Tour, or as Suarez called it, “the last day … to celebrate”  his 2016 Xfinity title.

Suarez was just a week removed from his first time ever driving a Cup car, in a organizational test at Phoenix Raceway. It was the first time Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 team was concerned about Suarez instead of Carl Edwards, who announced in January he was stepping away from the sport.

The two-day test came 20 days after Suarez was announced as replacing Edwards. That was 54 days after Suarez became the first foreign-born driver to win a title in one of NASCAR’s national series.

It’s been a hectic month for Suarez, who been busy with the NASCAR Media Tour, photo shoots and other sponsor duties Edwards had already done in December.

“Everything has been happening very fast, but it’s been very good,” Suarez said. “Getting to know what it’s like to a part of a Cup team. It’s very different than the Xfinity team. Trying to learn everything as quick as possible, with the first race just around the corner next weekend. We have to put ourselves into speed to get that race and try to be strong.”

Suarez’ first Cup action will come in the Advanced Auto Part Clash on Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway, but his Cup acclimation began on the 1-mile Phoenix Raceway. The 25-year-old did his best to treat the first day of the rest of his career like any other.

“I tried to just do it,” Suarez said. “Not think too much about it and try to do it. Actually, it was very good. It was a super productive test with the 19 Cup crew. I felt like we learned a lot from each other, the communication, our chemistry. We have a lot of confidence that we’re going to have a very, very positive 2017 season starting in Daytona next week.”

His learning process began with the help of his predecessor. Edwards, a two-time winner at Phoenix, was on hand to provide any insight that could help Suarez get a boost on his rookie season.

“He told me a lot of advice about Phoenix in the Cup car,” Suarez said. “It’s something very different than from what I’m used to. It was good to have advice from someone like him. He’s very good, he has a lot of wins there. It was good to have him there the first day of the test. He helped us to move forward faster than normal.”

If the last two months were fast for Suarez, it only will escalate next week as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series arrives at Daytona. In the last two years, Suarez has made six starts on the 2.5-mile superspeedway in the Xfinity and Truck Series.

What lesson Suarez has learned from those races will he take with him into the biggest race week of his career?

“I’ve learned one thing, that patience is very important,” Suarez said. “Patience pays back most of the time.”

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NASCAR America Scan All: Kyle Busch wants to know if he got a one- or two-fingered salute

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“P17; you’re making really good time,” Kyle Busch’s spotter Adam Stevens told Busch as he blasted through the field on his way to winning a third consecutive race in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

“Was that a two-fingered or a one-fingered salute,” Busch replied about his experience in traffic.

“The 42 dove-bombed us a little bit, but the 41’s the one that got us,” Jamie McMurray was told by his spotter.

But McMurray was still upset about an earlier incident when the two were racing for the free pass.

“Jamie’s trying to tear up our car now,” Kyle Larson said after getting run into by his teammate. “I got damage on my left side from him.”

Here are some of the other scanner highlights:

• “We got a penalty,” Rodney Childers told Kevin Harvick. “The wedge wrench went over the wall.”
• “Good, we’re coming from the back,” Harvick replied. “That’s what, three or four weeks in a row? I’m used to it.”
• “That 31’s fighting the hell out of the 78,” Childers reported.
• “I’m sorry about all that,” Larson said after missing pit road twice. “I braked later than I did there. Those two times, I just wheel hopped.”
• “That’s pathetic,” Aric Almirola said. “I don’t know how we can be that good for 200 laps and that bad after that.”

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: Matt DiBenedetto will pay tribute to Jeff Burton in Southern 500

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For several years, the Southern 500 has given drivers an opportunity to pay tribute to the legends of NASCAR and this year, Matt DiBenedetto will pay homage to Jeff Burton’s No. 99 from the 2000 Cup season.

“You have no clue how excited I am about this one,” Matt DiBenedetto said. “I’ve been wanting to do this one for a while.

“This actually has a back story on it. And this is what got me into NASCAR and into racing. And the first car that I liked – I bought the diecast cars for – this is like really close to my heart.”

“It’s really exciting for me,” Jeff Burton said in a taped interview. “That 2000 paint scheme was really popular with Jeff Burton fans and Exide Racing fans back in the day. A lot of good things happened that year. We won several races that year.”

Burton won four races that year and finished second on five other occasions.

Burton didn’t win the Southern 500 that year, but he came close – finishing second to teammate Mark Martin.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: A Matt Kenseth return to Roush Fenway Racing would mean …

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Roush Fenway Racing will make what it is calling a major partner announcement at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and a report states that it will include details on Matt Kenseth returning to drive for the team.

NASCAR on NBC’s Nate Ryan reported Tuesday that Roush Fenway Racing declined comment on SB Nation’s report that Kenseth would run select races for Trevor Bayne beginning May 12 at Kansas Speedway. Ryan reported that multiple principles, including a former Roush Fenway Racing driver will be at Wednesday’s announcement.

Kenseth, who turned 46 in March, won Cup Rookie of the Year honors with Roush Fenway Racing in 2000 and remained there through the 2012 season.

Kenseth left for Joe Gibbs Racing and raced there from 2013-17. He was replaced after last season in the No. 20 car by Erik Jones, leaving Kenseth without a full-time ride for this season.

NASCAR on NBC’s Kyle Petty said on NASCAR America that should the report of Kenseth’s return to Roush Fenway Racing be true, it would provide a nice homecoming.

“He knows the players,’’ Petty said of Kenseth. “He knows everything about the place. He grew up there. He came of age there. He won (a) championship. He won races there. So from all those pieces, it makes sense for a guy like Matt Kenseth to go back there just as it would if Jeff Gordon said I want to go back to Hendrick. It makes perfect sense. But only Matt can answer that question (of why).’’

Ryan noted it is not unusual for teams to put another driver in a car to benchmark that car’s performance.

Bayne is 26th in the points. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has not finished better than 12th (Texas) this season. Every driver ahead of him in the points has at least one top-10 finish this season.

“Even in a part-time basis, what could he bring?’’ Petty said of Kenseth. “He brings so much. It’s an intangible. I think we saw it when he went to Joe Gibbs Racing. What did he bring there? That team just, all of a sudden, just took off. Was it all Matt Kenseth? No, but it’s part Matt Kenseth, it’s part that knowledge, it’s part that experience, it’s part that desire to run up front, win races and build something and I think Matt felt he had built something that first go around.’’

Kenseth scored the 39th Cup win of his career in November at Phoenix. A week before that win, Kenseth talked to Ryan on the NASCAR on NBC podcast about realizing the end of his career seemed near.

“But like I said, I feel like the way things have gone that for whatever reason — reasons I don’t understand that I think will become really, really clear in the future — that it’s just not meant for me to race next year,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s that simple. Everything lined up this way because I wasn’t going to make the decision myself, so someone made it for me. It’s just not supposed to happen.”

Car owner Joe Gibbs said Tuesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he would look forward to a return by Kenseth to Cup.

“I’ve got to tell you I would love it,’’ Gibbs said. “What a great guy, a great person, a great representative for the sport and for sponsors and extremely competitive. I would love that, and I hope that is going to be the case. I hope he can be there on a steady basis.

“It would be a thrill for us to have Matt back. I think he’s a real credit to the NASCAR Series and love the family. I think that would be great for us. I hope that’s going to be the case. I hope he gets to run a bunch of races.’’

For more, watch the video above.

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Deontay Wilder named Geico 500 honorary pace car driver

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Talladega SuperSpeedway has a reputation for delivering blows to the competition, so it is only fitting that the honorary pace car driver for the Geico 500 will be a man known to deliver knockouts to his opponents. Reigning World Boxing Council (WBC) World Heavyweight Champion and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native Deontay Wilder will pace the field before the initial green flag Sunday.

Wilder, 32, has a record of 40-0 with 39 of his wins by knockout.

Known as the “Bronze Bomber” because of the 2008 Bronze medal he won in the Beijing Olympics, Wilder found boxing as a way to provide for a daughter diagnosed with spina bifida. He immediately found that he was a natural by scoring a technical knockout over Ethan Cox in November, 2008.

Wilder has held the title since January 2015 after defeating Bermane Stiverne in his only bout that was not decided by a knockout. Wilder scored a unanimous decision and has defended his belt seven times since.