But without that season — and a series of events beyond his control — Suarez wouldn’t be with a Stewart-Haas Racing team that saw its four drivers win races last year and each advance to the third round of the playoffs.
The joy makes up for the frustration and angst Suarez experienced last year while at Joe Gibbs Racing. After finishing 20th in points as a rookie in 2017, more was expected last year from his team.
Suarez and his team didn’t deliver.
“I wish I knew many answers,” Suarez told NBC Sports on Monday about last season’s struggles. “I can tell you we were not even close to my expectations. As a driver, you always have your expectations and then as a team you plan the expectations of the team, and I don’t feel we got to either expectations.
“We had good results. We had a couple of second-place finishes and few top five finishes but (were) extremely inconsistent, extremely inconsistent. I don’t really know exactly what was the problem. I just know that in a year we were not able to fix it. We tried.
“Once I saw that something wasn’t right, I was pushing very hard with the team to try to fix it, and we just couldn’t. I don’t know. I felt like a change, it was going to be good for me. I’m very, very grateful for the opportunity that Gibbs gave me in the national series and Toyota, but once I moved to Cup, I felt like it was a little slow for myself. I was working extremely hard to fix that, I just couldn’t make it work.”
As Suarez struggled for results — he would finish 21st in the points — other factors were taking place that would impact his future.
“I was very disappointed,” Suarez told NBC Sports. “I will tell you that for a month I was a different person. I was mad with everyone. I don’t feel that I was being a good person in general, not just in racing but in general.
“But then you just have to realize that everything happens for a reason. The position that I’m in today was something that maybe, who knows, without that change, who knows if I would have been able to do this move. I honestly feel like I’m in a better position than I was a year ago.
“I’m really relieved that everything happens for a reason, and I’m extremely grateful to have this second chance in a top-caliber team. I’m really excited to go out there and show what I can do and what I couldn’t do last year.”
Suarez admits he was worried for more than a month last year where he would race once JGR said it would let him go after the season. There were questions if sponsor Arris would remain at Joe Gibbs Racing or follow Suarez to another ride. The logical destination for Suarez was the No. 41 car at Stewart-Haas Racing with Kurt Busch leaving that ride, but Suarez would need to bring sponsorship. Without Arris, the chances of him being in that car — one that won a race last year and won the Daytona 500 two years ago — were less. Arris will sponsor Suarez’s ride, along with Haas Automation, at SHR.
“When things start to happen, you don’t really know who has your back and who doesn’t,” Suarez told NBC Sports. “I thought a lot of people had my back at one point and then the next week all of a sudden everything changed. There were a lot of questions. A lot of questions without answers. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t just a fun month or so. Like I said, everything started to get on track, everything started to get better, a better idea of where everything was going to go.
“I just feel very, very happy to be in the position I’m in today with great teammates, a great organization.”
Suarez said that he’s known Harvick since running in the Xinfity Series. Suarez often asked Harvick questions or for advice on matters. Same with Bowyer. Suarez and Almirola often rode bikes in the same group last year at the track.
Now he will seek to help them repeat what they did last year by getting every SHR car back to Victory Lane.
“That’s something that is very, very hard to do,” Suarez told NBC Sports. “Sometimes people don’t realize. Most of the big team teams, they have very good programs, but they don’t every single car winning and up front. Stewart-Haas Racing was able to do that. You know when you are able to do that you have an extremely good group of people behind those programs working extremely hard.”
Suarez is confident he can win in the No. 41 car this year with crew chief Billy Scott. Suarez cites the new package teams will run this year and notes he finished second to Harvick in the All-Star Race when a similar package was tried last year.
“I will say to myself, why not?” Suarez said of winning this year. “The team is good, strong. The team is pretty much exactly the same. The only part that has changed is the driver. The rules are different. I feel those rules, if anything, are going to help me based on what I experienced in the All-Star Race. I have high expectations. The team has high expectations as well.
“I feel there is a lot of potential to do great things this year.”
Nate Ryan contributed to this report
Daniel Suarez to drive No. 41 car for Stewart-Haas Racing
Daniel Suarez will drive the No. 41 Ford Mustang Cup car for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2019, the team announced Monday on Suarez’s 27th birthday. The announcement also comes 41 days before the Daytona 500.
Arris, a long-time backer of Suarez, and Haas Automation will sponsor Suarez’s car.
“This is the best birthday present I could ask for,” said Suarez in a statement from the team. “We’ve all seen how competitive Stewart-Haas Racing is – all of their drivers won last year and all of them advanced deep into the playoffs. This is the opportunity every driver wants, and now I have it. I want to deliver for this team, our partners in Haas Automation, Arris and Ford and, ultimately, for me. We have everything we need to be successful.”
Suarez fills the last remaining open seat with a charter Cup team. The move had been anticipated for weeks. He replaces Kurt Busch, who moved to Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the No. 1 car this season.
Suarez enters his third Cup season after spending the past two at Joe Gibbs Racing. He lost his ride so the organization could bring in Martin Truex Jr. Truex was available when his ride at Furniture Row Racing went away when the team ceased operations after the 2018 season.
Saurez joins a Stewart-Haas Racing team that won 12 of 36 points races last year but will have a new car with Ford using the Mustang in Cup this season.
In two seasons in Cup, Suarez has four top-five finishes and 21 top 10s in 72 starts. He won the 2016 Xfinity championship at Joe Gibbs Racing.
“In each series Daniel has raced in, he’s advanced quickly from rookie to race winner,” co-owner Tony Stewart said in a statement from the team. “In four years, he went from the K&N Series to the NASCAR Cup Series. In between, he won an Xfinity Series championship, and he did it all while learning a new language and a new culture. He’s dedicated, he’s talented and we’re proud to have him as a key part of our race team.”
Said co-owner Gene Haas in a statement from the team: “We’re in racing to win and we believe Daniel Suarez can win in the NASCAR Cup Series. “Haas Automation is a global brand and our success is directly attributable to how we’ve leveraged the Haas name in racing. We use motorsports to showcase our latest technology and to attract the best talent in engineering and design. Daniel allows Haas Automation to strengthen its ties to the Mexican community by racing the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang.”
The season begins Feb. 10 with the Advance Auto Parts Clash, a race Suarez is eligible for with his pole last season. The Daytona 500 is Feb. 17.
NASCAR Cup drivers have many milestones ahead of them in 2019.
Here is a look at some that could be reached this season:
Jimmie Johnson has 83 victories and is tied with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time list. His next victory will tie him with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison in fourth. Johnson was winless in 2018, the first time he ran a full Cup season without a victory.
Since winning in his rookie season of 2005, Kyle Busch has never failed to find Victory Lane in the Cup series – a streak of 14 seasons. He’s also had great success in the Xfinity and Truck series. Busch is six total wins away from achieving 200 victories across NASCAR’s top three divisions. Busch has 51 Cup wins, 92 Xfinity wins and 51 Truck wins.
Kevin Harvick is five wins away from joining the exclusive 50-win club that has 13 members. Johnson and Busch are the only active drivers with more than 50 Cup wins.
Hendrick Motorsports looks to extend its streak of consecutive seasons with a Cup win to 34 this year.
Last year Erik Jones and Chase Elliott won, marking three consecutive seasons in which drivers scored career-first victories. That was the longest streak since 2005-2007. The last time at least four consecutive seasons highlighted first-time winners was from 1994-2003.
Jimmie Johnson is seven top fives away from tying Lee Petty for 10th on the all time list with 231.
Kevin Harvick is nine away from achieving 200 top fives.
With four top 10s, Clint Bowyer will become the 37th driver to crack the 200 mark.
Kurt Busch is 20 away from achieving 300 top 10s, which will make him the 21st driver to do so.
Jimmie Johnson has the most top 10s among active drivers with 352 (11th on the all-time list). With nine top 10s he will tie Terry Labonte in 10th.
Kevin Harvick (336) could become the active driver with the most top 10s if he earns 16 more than Johnson.
Since winning his first pole in the spring Bristol race of 2010, Joey Logano has earned at least one per year. In 2019, he looks to extend his streak to 10 consecutive seasons. Last year, he earned only one pole at Kansas in the fall.
Chase Elliott has won at least one pole in his first three full-time seasons at the Cup level, but he has never earned more than two in a year.
Kurt Busch has 648 starts, which places him currently 23rd on the list. If he makes all the races in 2019 he will pass Dale Earnhardt Sr. and move to 18th on the list.
Kevin Harvick (646), Ryan Newman (620) and Jimmie Johnson (615) also have more than 600 starts.
Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman each have 612 consecutive starts to start the season, which ties them for ninth on the list. If they make nine more consecutive starts they will catch Mark Martin. With 16 more consecutive starts, they will catch Jeff Burton. If both Johnson and Newman make all of the races in 2019, they will end the season tied for sixth with Dale Earnhardt Sr. (648).
Assuming the following drivers make all of the races, this is when they should reach their respective milestones:
The 2019 NASCAR season is now within view as we have entered the month of January.
That means a lot of highly anticipated changes in the sport will be visible on track.
Before we get to what to expect from each team specifically, here’s what Cup teams will be dealing with in 2019.
Inspired by what was used in the 2018 All-Star Race, the new rules package will feature a tapered spacer to control the engines instead of a restrictor plate. Teams will have 550 horsepower at tracks 1.33 miles and larger and 750 horsepower at tracks shorter than 1.33 miles.
Some crew chiefs, including Cole Pearn, have said the new package could result in racing that resembles what is seen in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
One team that will not be present this year is Furniture Row Racing, which ceased operations on its No. 78 Toyota after 2018 due to a lack of sponsorship.
Rick Ware Racing will field two cars with two charters. It has not announced drivers for either car.
Spire Sports + Entertainment will field the No. 77 with a charter purchased from Furniture Row Racing. A driver has not been announced.
Obaika Racing will field rookie Tanner Berryhill in the No. 97 in its first full-time season.
(Drivers are listed in order of their car number with where they finished in the points last year)
What’s new: Cassill is slated to compete full-time for StarCom Racing, which bought a charter from Richard Childress Racing. Cassill, with 29 starts, is the only driver with more than seven for the team.
What’s the same: StarCom will again compete with a Chevrolet model in its second full season of competition.
What’s new: Kurt Busch moves from Stewart-Haas Racing to replace Jamie McMurray, who drove the No. 1 for nine years. McMurray will be an analyst for Fox Sports. CGR will be the sixth team Busch has competed for in Cup.
What’s the same: Matt McCall is back to crew chief the No. 1 after four years with McMurray.
What’s the same: Crew chief Paul Wolfe and Keselowski enter their ninth season together. With the separation of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, that makes Wolfe and Keselowski the longest-tenured driver/crew chief pairing in the series.
What’s new: Dillon will have Danny Stockman Jr. as his crew chief, replacing Justin Alexander. Stockman is Dillon’s fourth crew chief in six full-time seasons in Cup. Dillon won a Xfinity and Truck Series title Stockman. Dillon will also have a new teammate in Daniel Hemric.
What’s the same: Dillon’s scheme for the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona will be a tribute to Dale Earnhardt’s scheme in the 1998 All-Star Race.
What’s new: Will enter his sophomore season under the guidance of Chad Knaus, the most successful active crew chief in NASCAR. This will be Byron’s first season in NASCAR without rookie stripes after previously competing in Xfinity and the Truck Series for just one season each.
What’s the same: Jeff Gordon is still the last (and only) driver to win in the No. 24.
What’s the same: Greg Ives returns as Bowman’s crew chief on the No. 88 Chevrolet.
No. 95 Matt DiBenedetto (29th)
What’s new: DiBenedetto replaced Kasey Kahne at Leavine Family Racing after two years at Go Fas Racing. LFR will compete under the Toyota banner after being a Chevrolet team. Mike Wheeler will crew chief the No. 95.
What’s the same: 2019 will be LFR’s fourth full-time season in Cup. The team is winless since it first went Cup racing in 2011.