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.
“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.”