FORT WORTH – Four months ago, Matt Crafton considered Daniel Suarez to be a “bird without feathers” in NASCAR.
Friday night, the two-time defending Camping World Truck Series champion had nothing but glowing reviews for the driver from Monterrey, Mexico.
“I had a blast racing with Daniel,” said Crafton, not long after coming out on top in a 14-lap duel with Suarez to win the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 at Texas Motor Speedway. “He’s done a phenomenal job. He’s really put in a lot of improvement.”
Through two late restarts, Suarez put everything he had in his No. 51 Arris Toyota to getting around Crafton in hope of earning his first NASCAR win. Suarez even admitted everything the truck had might have been risky.
“I think it was a little bit too loose to be racing (the way it was) in the end,” Suarez said of racing in the bottom lane beneath Crafton. “At one point, I told them ‘We got it’ for a second, but (Crafton) did. He has a lot of experience doing this. We’ve got to keep learning, keep working and hopefully we can get it done soon.”
Still, Suarez lamented he wasn’t aggressive enough to put his truck ahead permanently.
“I need to talk with (owner) Kyle (Busch) to get some advice to race hard,” Suarez said.
Starting with the next-to-last restart, Suarez made the final laps seem a lot longer to Crafton, who won his eighth career race.
“We were side-by-side it felt like 10 laps, but I know it wasn’t that,” Crafton said. “He almost had me cleared a couple times and I knew if had me cleared, he might have won the race.”
Suarez wasn’t able to clear him on either restart, but he was happy not to have wrecked his truck after bouncing off Crafton entering Turn 1 on the final green flag.
“At one point I said, ‘I’m going to try do this and we’ll see what happens,’ Suarez said. “The last thing I want to do is wreck that fast truck. I really like to bring complete trucks back to the shop and think this is something very important.”
A full-timer in the Xfinity Series, Suarez is part-time in the CWTS, having run all but one of the series’ races in 2015. Since finishing ninth in the first Truck race, Suarez has yet to finish outside the top-10 in his six races. This is the second week in a row that Suarez has finished second.
“To be honest, in the beginning of the season, my goal was to run in the top 10 in both series,” Suarez said. “So far it’s been way more than that. I’m just happy with the results so far. As a racecar driver, it’s never enough, we are running in the front, we are getting close to getting that win and we always want more and more. I think we are getting close, I think as well there’s a long way to go, learning in my career.”
But as he’s been learning this year, Crafton has noticed and is enjoying the progress of his competitor.
“I remember racing him at Daytona and then watching him in the Xfinity race,” Crafton said. “But the kid has put his stuff together. He’s run, really, really good. I’ve watched him and he is very impressive. I took him out to lunch yesterday and I guess I’ll take him to lunch more often.”