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Daniel Suarez looks to go from very good to great starting with Coca-Cola 600

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Daniel Suarez has a ‘G’ at the end of his Twitter handle – @Daniel_SuarezG – which stands for his other surname of Garza.

But ‘G’ also stands for what Suarez aspires for the remainder of this season – to go from very good to great – as he hopes to take things to the next level beginning with Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600.

This season has been very good so far but I’m looking to turn it into a great season,” Suarez said in a media release. “We are moving in the right direction and I’m looking forward to doing even better.

We’ve had strong cars over the last month and a half and hopefully I can do my part as the driver and make it a great race this weekend. The one thing I’ve been dreaming about from this race is the amazing vintage Coca-Cola vending machine you get if you win. I really want to bring that thing to my house.”

In addition to his pursuit of the vintage Coca-Cola vending machine, Suarez will carry a special Coca-Cola paint scheme on his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang this weekend, as he makes his third appearance in the 600.

He finished 11th in his first run in NASCAR’s longest race of the season in 2017, and was 15th in last year’s race. He also was sixth in the fall 2017 playoff race.

From an overall success standpoint so far in 2019, Suarez has one top-five and four top-10s in the first 12 races, with a best showing of third at Texas. He also has seven top-15 finishes in his last eight starts, and comes into this weekend ranked 13th in the Cup standings.

Suarez is still looking to earn his first Cup win. Sunday will mark his 85th career Cup start. He knows what is at stake in the 600, an event that is scheduled for 400 laps around the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As a human being you try and perform at 100% the entire time, but when you’re running a marathon you’re not going to be as strong in the last 30 minutes, that’s normal,” Suarez said. “Fatigue is setting in, your muscles are tired, you’re running out of fluid, and you’re hungry.

Racing is the same way, especially in the Coca-Cola 600. We start running out of energy and you’re mind gets tired after four hours of racing. But I look to this race as a marathon and you have to be on top of your game for the last part of this race. So I always try to keep that in my mind when I’m in the car. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.

It’s a combination of things. Your neck is tired, your lower back is tired, legs are tired and you’re just fatigued. You definitely feel it the next morning after a 600-mile race. You feel like you worked out a lot the day before, and you did inside the car.

One way Suarez will get through Sunday’s four-wheel marathon is to maintain a rather unique mindset.

Two-and-a-half of these 600-mile races and I could be home in Monterrey, Mexico,” he said. “It’s crazy to think of it that way.”

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Long: All-Star Race shows value of shorter distances for Cup events

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The All-Star Race is billed as an event that also serves as a test session.

While cars had some new parts that may be used on the Gen 7 vehicle — expected to debut in 2021 — there’s something else that can be taken from Saturday night and applied to more races.

Shorter distances.

A night that saw two stages in the Monster Open end in spectacular finishes, the All-Star Race crown a new winner and punches thrown on pit road afterward, featured 150 laps compared to the 400 laps that will be run on the same track this weekend.

While there remains room on the Cup schedule for a Daytona 500, a Coca-Cola 600 and a Southern 500, the All-Star Race showed that sometimes shorter distances can be better.

There certainly didn’t seem to be any complaints from fans Saturday night about seeing fewer laps of racing than most weekends.

Instead, the talk was about Clint Bowyer running to Ryan Newman’s car and flailing at Newman in retaliation for being wrecked on the cool-down lap.

Or the talk was about Bubba Wallace’s dramatic win in the second stage of the Monster Energy Open that saw Daniel Suarez slide off track and then Wallace finishing fifth in the All-Star Race.

Or the talk was about Kyle Larson winning is first All-Star Race and collecting $1 million after holding off Kevin Harvick at the end.

All this over an exhibition race.

Imagine what might happen if this was a points race and the winner secured a spot in the playoffs — something Larson initially wondered if he had done before being told no.

Shortening some races shouldn’t be done as a way to find younger fans that some would suggest don’t have the attention span for longer races. The sport doesn’t need to go chasing fans that way. It did that years ago and alienated its older fans.

But if some shorter distances heighten tensions in races and lead to more water cooler moments, then it’s something the sport should consider.

The notion that most races need to be marathons is outdated and outrageous. Few cars suffer mechanical failures. The downforce is so great that few cars spin, let alone crash. Racing is no longer a test of a car’s survival over long distances.

While longer races allow drivers and teams to overcome handling issues or mistakes early and contend for wins, that shouldn’t be the main reason to keep some races 400 or 500 miles.

Turn some of these races into sprints, add points and watch the pressure build. There will be no time for pleasantries. It will be about charging to the front.

Saturday night’s race provided such action. Although not every short race will capture the essence of the All-Star Race, there’s a greater chance of it happening.

Just think about what often makes a longer race special. It’s a restart at the end that forces drivers to make bold moves. In essence a late restart turns a long race into quick sprint.

Why not add a few more of those in the future?

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The All-Star Race will be in Charlotte next year but what is the event’s future?

Provided the Gen 7 car debuts in 2021 as NASCAR states, there will be no need to use the All-Star Race that season as a test session — as has been done the past two times — because teams still will be trying to figure out the car.

That would make it a good time to consider moving the All-Star Race to a different location. Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway would be a logical choice but there are challenges.

Provided NASCAR releases the 2021 schedule next April — the 2020 Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules were all released by April 3 this year — it gives the folks at Bristol Motor Speedway (and Speedway Motorsports Inc.) less than 11 months to complete a deal with the city and the fair board, which oversees the track, get funding approved and make the changes that are needed to update the track.

While all of that is happening, the city will have elections in August for mayor and other city positions. With multiple candidates running for mayor, a run-off might be needed and that would be held in September.

Those in the sport who have had to work with government entities know how deals can be all but done and then suddenly change at the last minute, throwing everything in doubt. The more layers of government, the longer something takes.

Anything can happen. A deal could be completed in time and could provide the opportunity to move the All-Star Race to Nashville in 2021. If not, maybe there is another place to hold it besides Charlotte, which already has two points races.

If not Nashville, maybe Iowa Speedway or some other track that would need a limited number of upgrades to host NASCAR’s top series. It could be time to think about moving the All-Star Race to places that don’t already have a Cup event.

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Synthetic turf at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman showed during Saturday night’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway how valuable it is for a track to have a synthetic turf instead of grass.

The track installed 88,000 square feet of synthetic turf last summer, along with a new drainage system, to replace the grass along the frontstretch. It was in place for the inaugural race on the Roval.

Hemric slid through the turf during the second stage of the Monster Energy Open after contact with Ryan Preece. Suarez spun through the turf at the end of the second stage in the Open. His car was not damaged, allowing him to continue.

Newman slid through the turf during the second stage of the All-Star Race and also suffered no damage and was able to continue.

“That was big,” Newman said. “I was able to finish my race. If there was grass down there, I wouldn’t have. That was a big deal.”

As long as vehicles have splitters, NASCAR should look to require speedways to use synthetic turf instead of grass in areas near the track to limit the damage when cars and trucks go through those areas. If not turf, then pave those areas. 

While not every accident is the same, just look at what happened to Natalie Decker in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race earlier this month when she slid into the frontstretch grass at Kansas Speedway. Decker was eliminated because of the damage and finished 25th.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials will “continue to look at” synthetic turf in place of grass at tracks.

“While it does present some challenges at some other tracks, I think that is a system we’ll continue to look at,” he said. “Certainly performed great. It looks good from a fan perspective and certainly helps the cars when they get in the turf during a race.”

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With Kevin Harvick chasing him in the final laps, Kyle Larson did not make a mistake and give away the All-Star Race.

It was much different from the 2016 All-Star Race when he hit the wall while leading with two laps to go as Joey Logano challenged him. Logano went on to win. Larson finished 16th in the 20-car field.

Saturday night, there were no mistakes.

“This year has been different for me,” Larson said. “I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with (trainer and former driver) Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm.

“I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think part of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races.  I just — I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl (on the last lap to Christopher Bell in January). I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. (Saturday) I wasn’t going to let that happen.

“With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like  — everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year.”

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All-Star Race leaves Bubba Wallace with big smile

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CONCORD, N.C. — It was a smile that wasn’t forced, a smile that didn’t deflect, and a smile that was not laced with hidden meanings.

This was genuine, perhaps a little forgotten, but oh so nice.

“I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time,” Wallace said after a night that saw him win a stage in the Monster Open to advance to the All-Star race and then finish fifth in that event.

It has been a long time since Wallace could feel so good. He noted last week that he had been depressed about things in his life. Results on the track also had not been inspiring.

Asked earlier this season at Auto Club Speedway what his team was lacking, Wallace said: “Money. It’s where we’re lacking. We need money to make more speed.”

He has not finished better than 17th in a points race this season. He has one top-10 results in his last 41 points races. That runner-up finish for the Richard Petty Motorsports driver in the 2018 Daytona 500 – and the tearful hug with his mother – seems so long ago. 

All of that can make it hard to smile.

That’s why Saturday meant so much to Wallace. He won (the second stage in the Monster Open), earning a hug from Ryan Blaney in the garage. Wallace then finished close enough to the front in the All-Star Race that he could see the leaders.

Yet, this night started with the same cruelty that has struck him so often on the track. Wallace was in the lead on the final lap of the opening stage of the Monster Open but William Byron nipped Wallace by inches at the line.

Wallace yelled an adult word repeatedly on the radio to express his frustration.

“Ever since I was a kid, they said I drive better when I’m pissed off,” Wallace said. “I was pissed off. I was really off after that. I let that one go. I thought that was it. Then the caution came out (in the second stage) and the same scenario.”

Another overtime finish.

“I’m not giving it up this time,” Wallace said. “So you’ve got to do what you’ve got do.”

This time Wallace raced Daniel Suarez on the last lap of the stage for the win. They made contact. Suarez spun and Wallace won to earn a spot in his first All-Star Race.

Wallace ran toward the back of the 19-car field in the first two stages. He moved into the top 10 in the third stage, finishing sixth.

He started outside the top 10 in the final 15-lap stage but was ninth in a couple of laps. Wallace moved up as others pitted with 12 laps to go and climbed up to fourth after a restart. Joey Logano passed Wallace with four laps to go, dropping Wallace to fifth. He held off Aric Almirola to finish there.

How much did that all that mean for him?

“I’m showing teeth in my smile,” Wallace said. “So that says a lot.”

Yes, it did.

Monster Energy Open: Larson, Wallace, Byron, Bowman advance to All-Star Race

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MONSTER ENERGY OPEN UPDATE — CONCLUSION OF RACE:

Kyle Larson dominated the final stage of the Monster Energy Open to advance to tonight’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I had to be patient,” Larson told Fox Sports 1. “I knew I had a really good car so I didn’t want to put myself in a bad spot and get damage like other guys did in the segments.

“Hopefully, we can give ourselves a good shot and clean up our act in the next hour or so (when the All-Star Race begins).

Click here for full race results.

Larson joins Stage 2 winner Bubba Wallace and Stage 1 winner William Byron in transferring into the All-Star Race. A fourth driver, Alex Bowman, also advances to the All-Star Race by virtue of winning the Fan Vote.

Larson briefly had a challenge by Ty Dillon in the 10-lap final stage, but then pulled away and won uncontested.

Dillon finished second, followed by Bowman, Matt DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Preece, Paul Menard, David Ragan, Corey LaJoie and Michael McDowell.

The All-Star Race is slated to begin shortly after 8 p.m. ET.

MONSTER ENERGY OPEN UPDATE — END OF STAGE TWO:

Bubba Wallace held off a late charge by Daniel Suarez — sending the latter spinning after colliding — and Kyle Larsen in Stage 2 of the Monster Energy Open to advance to the NASCAR All-Star Race later tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Wallace joins Stage 1 winner William Byron in advancing to the All-Star Race. One final stage remains in the Open.

“This has been tough and I’ve been feeling like a failure for a really long time, I didn’t give a damn out there,” Wallace told Fox Sports 1. “I love Suarez to death but he knows what’s on the line. … We needed this. I needed this.”

Like Stage 1, the scheduled 20-lap Stage 2 went into overtime. Ryan Preece and pole-sitter Daniel Hemric collided with two laps remaining, bringing out the caution.

Stage 2 ultimately went 25 total laps, including five laps of overtime. Kyle Larson finished second, followed by Suarez, Ty Dillon and David Ragan.

Sixth through 10th were Matt DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Preece, Corey LaJoie and Alex Bowman

One final stage — a 10-lap shootout — remains in the Open. The winner of the final stage will also advance to the All-Star Race. A fourth driver will also advance by winning the Fan Vote.

MONSTER ENERGY OPEN — END OF STAGE 1

William Byron bumped his way into tonight’s NASCAR All-Star Race, bumping and then passing Bubba Wallace in the final turn to take Stage 1 of the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway and will advance into the NASCAR All-Star Race later tonight.

Due to a caution late in Stage 1 when B.J. McLeod‘s car started smoking heavily, the scheduled 20 laps of Stage 1 went 27 laps. Byron was fourth when the white flag fell on the 24-driver Open field and was able to get by Wallace at the start-finish line to take the checkered flag.

“It was just crazy, the seas just parted for us,” Byron told Fox Sports 1. “It feels awesome to be in the All-Star Race. It’s a huge accomplishment for myself and Chad (crew chief Chad Knaus) has been here a number of times. It feels good.”

Two more stages remain: the 20-lap Stage 2 and the final 10-lap Stage 3 (the race winner). The winners of Stage 2 and the overall race winner will then join Byron in advancing to the All-Star Race.

A fourth driver will transfer to the All-Star Race by virtue of winning the fan vote.

Wallace finished second in Stage 1, followed by Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez and Alex Bowman.

Sixth through 10th were pole-sitter Daniel Hemric, Matt DiBenedetto, Paul Menard, David Ragan and Ryan Preece.

We’ll have the results of Stage 2 and the overall full results of the Open after their completion.

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Tonight’s All-Star Race at Charlotte: Start time, lineup and more

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No points. Just a $1 million to the winner. As pole-sitter Clint Bowyer says: “I don’t care if you’re Warren Buffet or the guy that is going to pick up (trash in) the grandstands after tonight, a million dollars is a million dollars. If you think it doesn’t mean anything different to me than it does to you, then you’re crazy.”

Drivers will go for the $1 million in tonight’s Monster Energy All-Star Race. The evening will begin with the Monster Energy Open for those not yet qualified for the All-Star Race.

Here’s all the info for tonight’s events:

(All times are Eastern)

MONSTER OPEN

START: Eurest Foodservice Director Lisa Melzer will give the command for the Monster Open at 6:10 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 6:18 p.m. 

PRERACE: Garage opens at 2 p.m. Drivers meeting is at 4 p.m. Driver introductions will begin at 5:56 p.m. The invocation will be given by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain Donnie Floyd at 6:08 p.m. Julia Cole will perform the “God Bless America” at 6:09 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 50 laps (75 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 20. Stage 2 ends at Lap 40. 

SPECIAL RULES: Green and yellow laps count in the first two stages. Only green flag laps count in the final stage. Overtime will be applied to all stages if there is a caution just before the end of a stage.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race at 6 p.m. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. with NASCAR RaceDay. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race. MRN’s coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast, which is also available at mrn.com.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 87 degrees and a 3% chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Alex Bowman won stage 1. Daniel Suarez won stage 2. AJ Allmendinger won the final stage. Chase Elliott won the fan vote. All advanced to the All-Star Race last year

ADVANCING TO ALL-STAR RACE: The three stage winners advance along with the fan vote winner.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Monster Energy Open starting lineup

 

ALL-STAR RACE

START: Axell “Slay” Hodges will give the command to start engines for the All-Star Race at 8:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 8:16 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 2 p.m. Drivers meeting is at 4 p.m. Driver introductions will begin at 7:35 p.m. The invocation will be given by car owner Joe Gibbs at 8 p.m. Michael Tait will perform the National Anthem at 8:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 85 laps (127 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 30. Stage 2 ends on Lap 50. Stage 3 ends at Lap 70. 

SPECIAL RULES: Each stage must end under green. Overtime procedures will be in place for each stage. Green and yellow laps count in the first three stages. Only green flag laps count in the final stage.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race at 8 p.m. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with NASCAR RaceDay. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race. MRN’s coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast, which is also available at mrn.com.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 82 degrees and a 15% chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kevin Harvick won last year’s race and was followed by Daniel Suarez, who came from the Open, and Joey Logano.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for All-Star Race starting lineup