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A birthday celebration that eases pain of 2018 for Daniel Suarez

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Amid a day celebrating his 27th birthday and new Cup ride with Stewart-Haas Racing, Daniel Suarez confided how difficult 2018 was.

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.

Furniture Row Racing announced July 18 that 5-hour Energy would not return after the season, a blow to the Denver, Colorado-based team. Car owner Barney Visser was unable to replace the primary sponsorship for this season and announced Sept. 4 that the team would cease operations, leaving 2017 Cup champ Martin Truex Jr. without a ride.

Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn would ink deals with Joe Gibbs Racing and join the organization in 2019. That meant JGR had to jettison one of its drivers. Suarez was told he would not be retained less than two years after winning the Xfinity title for JGR and not yet though his second full Cup season.

“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.”

While he hasn’t worked with new teammates Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola before, he’s spent time with them.

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

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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.

Suarez becomes the youngest Cup driver at Stewart-Haas Racing. Kevin Harvick is 43 years old, Clint Bowyer is 39 and Aric Almirola is 34.

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.

Danica Patrick: ‘I want to continue racing if I have an opportunity to do well’

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KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — While Danica Patrick’s future remains uncertain, one thing is certain.

She doesn’t have interest in racing full-time in the Xfinity Series next year.

“Cup only,’’ she said Monday after unveiling the throwback paint scheme her car will have in next month’s Southern 500.

Patrick’s future with Stewart-Haas Racing remains cloudy because of lack of sponsorship for next year. Nature’s Bakery was to have been in the second of a three-year deal with the team but terminated its contract in January. The team filed a $31 million lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery. A settlement was later reached in May.

Without sponsorship, Patrick could be out of a ride. She says she’s not fretting about her job status.

“I want to continue racing if I have an opportunity to do well,’’ Patrick said. “I have no interest, as I’ve said for years now, to run 25th. It’s not fun. So if I don’t feel like I can have the opportunity to move on from there and have a better opportunity, then honestly I don’t care. It’s just because it’s not fun. I don’t drive because I love the thrill of getting sideways. In fact, I don’t like getting sideways. That’s not why I do it. I’m just letting things evolve the way they can without being forceful about anything.’’

While some could infer that means she doesn’t care. Patrick says that’s not the case.

“When I was younger I used to get so mad all the time,’’ she said. “Trust me. I still get mad and throw things. I try not to do it in front of people. I still get fired up.

“But there was so much when I was younger that happened with me getting mad. I felt like if I didn’t portray a displeasure with anything but the best, but first place, then I was somehow showing people that I didn’t think that I could do it.

“I finally came to the conclusion a long time ago, and I’ve only just gotten better at it that I don’t have to look like I hate everything and hate everybody and be awfully unhappy about everything to do well on the track. In fact, sometimes it would get in the way if I was too unhappy. Me being more at peace with everything and not getting so fired up at certain points in time is just really because it’s unproductive, and I don’t need to prove to people that I care.’’

Since a run of four consecutive top-15 finishes — her best four-race stretch in two seasons — she has placed 22nd at Watkins Glen and last weekend at Michigan. She enters Saturday night’s race at Bristol 28th in the points.

“I think that we have finally got away from bad luck,’’ she said.  “I think we have finally found ourselves having clean races and staying out of trouble and getting lucky on top of not having bad luck, we’ve had some good luck, too.’’

Her team isn’t the only one at Stewart-Haas Racing searching for sponsorship.

Stewart-Haas Racing recently declined the option on Kurt Busch’s contract for next year because Monster Energy hasn’t decided if it will return to sponsor Busch’s car. The team expects Busch to return next year. Haas Automation, the company founded by team owner Gene Haas and that sponsors Kurt Busch‘s team, has been the sponsor on Clint Bowyer’s car in 13 of the season’s first 23 races.

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Kurt Busch’s ‘Where’s Earl?’ tour hits the West Coast in California

Kurt Busch
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More than a month later, Kurt Busch still is basking in his Daytona 500 victory.

Busch has been lugging around his Harley J. Earl trophy on his “Where’s Earl?” tour, taking the hardware to his Las Vegas high school, the Chicago Cubs’ spring training camp and other stops.

The ultimate destination for the trophy was Haas Automation’s headquarters in Oxnard, California, which he visited this week (NASCAR is in Southern California for Sunday’s race in Fontana).

Busch has continued to document his tour on Twitter as the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has made multiple TV appearances and taken the trophy for a long walk on the beach.

Here’s a look at all the stops Busch and Earl have made this week ahead of the Cup Series race weekend at Auto Club Speedway.