HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Daniel Suarez was “disappointed” and “extremely surprised” about losing his ride at Stewart-Haas Racing after his business team apparently delivered “several millions” in sponsorship that the team wanted.
“A lot of people have worked very hard on this team to try to put everything together and unfortunately it wasn’t enough,” Suarez said Friday before Cup practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “We needed a few months. We had to find a big amount of money to keep the ride for next year.
“My group of people, friends and a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing went to work and we actually did a pretty good job. We pretty much got the goal but unfortunately part of the money wasn’t on the table at this point. It was going to come a few months later, and it wasn’t enough. It was a little unfortunate. It was a surprise. I was as shocked as you guys are probably right now.”
Suarez said he learned Monday night about SHR’s decision to replace him with Xfinity driver Cole Custer after meeting with the team earlier that day.
In interviews over the past two months, he generally had provided positive updates on his chances of retaining his seat in the No. 41 Ford.
“I am pretty sure that most of you saw me very confident because I knew where we were,” he said. “I was 95 percent sure that we were in. I was extremely surprised. A lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing worked very hard to put everything together. It was disappointing to see that. Tony Stewart was pushing for me so hard. Brett Frood, a lot of people in Stewart-Haas Racing. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out with Haas.”
Team owner Gene Haas created the No. 41 in 2014 for Kurt Busch (mostly without the knowledge of co-owner Tony Stewart, who was hospitalized with a broken leg during much of the decision-making).
“Gene actually controls the 41 car, but we’re all comfortable with the decision,” Stewart said. “I spoke to Gene a lot about it. We feel like Cole has done a great job this year, and Cole has earned his right to be in the Cup Series next year, with seven wins and running for a championship. He deserves it. You know, it ultimately is Gene’s decision, but like I said, this is something that as a company we all agreed with and feel like that Cole has earned his right to be in the series and have an opportunity like this.
“We still want to try to figure out how to help Daniel. I think he deserves to be in the Cup Series. It’s just a matter of how do we fit it all in, and when you’ve got a feeder series and you’ve got your own program to work young drivers up through there, sometimes you get in scenarios like this where you’ve got more drivers than you have cars. ….We wish we could have five cars, but we can’t, so it puts us in this odd position to have to make a change like that. It’s bittersweet.”
Suarez, who is wrapping up his third season in Cup, joined SHR this season after getting dumped last year by Joe Gibbs Racing for Martin Truex Jr. The Monterrey, Mexico, native said he talked with Stewart earlier Friday, but “I don’t know what I am going to do yet.
“This is the position we are in now, but I think good things happen to good people and I am sure good things are going to line up for me,” Suarez said. “Tony is a great guy. In the last six months I have learned that he is a very good friend. In the last week I have been talking to him a lot. He was talking to a lot of people, and he was pushing very hard for me.
“Unfortunately the 41 team, and especially the 41, he doesn’t have a lot that he can do with that car because the 41 is not his car. He pushed. I am sure that he pushed as hard as he could, like a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing did. It just didn’t work out.”
Suarez said his business team had gone from being far short of SHR’s sponsorship requirement six weeks ago to near the number a few weeks ago.
“We were in good shape. It is very hard to just write a check and put it on somebody’s desk,” he said. “It doesn’t work like that. It is impossible. They put the bar very high for me and my group to find money but we did it. But just the timing wasn’t right.””
He also said he wasn’t angry but just felt blindsided by SHR’s decision. The 2016 Xfinity Series champion also met Friday with Ford Performance executive Mark Rushbrook. With the sponsorship, he also could be a candidate at Richard Childress Racing, which had been mentioned as a possibility last year before he landed at SHR.
“Richard is a great guy,” Suarez said. “He is a very honest and straightforward person. I haven’t talked to him in weeks but in years past we have had several conversations but not lately. Right now I really haven’t done a lot. I just wanted to get back on my feet and go racing and try to kick their butt.”
Suarez seemed unsure of whether he would remain in NASCAR, noting he had achieved his goal of winning races and title in the Xfinity Series.. He is ranked a career-best 17th in the points standings with a career-high four top fives heading into the finale and just missed qualifying for the 16-driver playoff field this season.
“Maybe a lot of people don’t believe this, but this wasn’t a problem of results,” Suarez said. “This wasn’t because we didn’t perform. (Teammate) Kevin Harvick is an amazing driver with an amazing team and has been doing an amazing job and that is why he is here today, fighting for a championship.
“But if you think about it, we have been racing along the other two cars very even the whole year even though we were a new team. We have had issues with the pit crew and changed the pit crew around several times this year to improve. That is the sad part for myself, that I have spent a lot of time working with my team to make my team better and changed the pit crew many times and moved people around and the spotter and a couple other things. I felt like we finally got everything clicking better the last month, month-and-a-half to be stronger. Now everything is coming apart.”