For most of the Advance Auto Parts Clash, Daniel Suarez didn’t look out-of-place.
The 25-year-old driver didn’t look like someone making their first start in a NASCAR Cup Series race. Competing in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 Cup car for the first time, Suarez started 16th but was in second place for a majority of the second segment of the 75-lap exhibition.
The replacement for Carl Edwards, Suarez finished eighth after running behind teammate Denny Hamlin until the closing laps. That’s when the Team Penske cars of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano began breaking up JGR’s four-car monopoly of the lead.
“I think the plan worked out perfect,” Suarez said. “Five laps to go we were exactly where we wanted to be. All four or five of us were in the front and were in a perfect spot to try to win this thing. But, I don’t know. There were some other cars and they have plans and they were pretty strong as well so I guess we have to shake what happened exactly here in this race and try to sort it out a little bit and we’ll come back better next week.”
The Clash is a different beast compared to the next Sunday’s Daytona 500. Instead of a 200-lap event with 40 cars, Suarez’ induction into Cup action came in a 75-lap race with just 17 cars. Of those 17 cars, Suarez was the only rookie.
“Those guys are aggressive and they race hard as soon as they see the green flag,” Suarez said. “I felt like I learned a lot. I felt like it was a very productive race for me and for my team and hopefully we can put everything we learned on the table for next week.”
Suarez, the defending Xfinity Series champion, said he “felt like he went to school” in the race, which had been postponed from Saturday night because of rain.
“Racing with all of these guys and learning about the aero of the car and how the tires fall off. The fall off is not even close to the Xfinity cars and I learned that today. And how the car works – it works really, really different. There’s nothing similar in a race like this with 75 laps in a pack of 17 cars that I can practice. I think my team did an amazing job. They put me in the front and gave me the opportunity to finish in the top five and we just came a little short I guess.”
Suarez has made six restrictor-plate starts in the Xfinity Series. His best result in four races at Daytona was eighth in the 2016 opener. Sunday wasn’t Suarez’ first time in the No. 19. He was part of a two-day at Phoenix Raceway at the end of January.