Daniel Suarez has plenty to prove as 2020 will be his 4th year at the top level.
His move last year to Stewart-Haas Racing proved to be a mixed success.
But the delayed timing of sponsorship for this term saw his ride at SHR terminated towards the end of Homestead three months back.
It took some time for Suarez to find a new ride, even considering dropping to the Xfinity Series before Gaunt Brothers Racing and Toyota gave him a lifeline with just a few weeks left before the new season starts.
Daytona 500 may be rough for some drivers, including Suarez himself since it’s one of “The Big One” events on display alongside Talladega.
But a week later, Suarez did plant a good base in 10th at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Fast forward after the West Coast swing, he also build a line of consistency with three straight Top 10s since the No.41 has decent equipment:
- 10th, Martinsville
- 3rd, Texas
- 8th, Bristol 1
Over the next six weeks, his results went inconsistent with no worse than just outside the Top 10.
The summer races proved to be positive, where Michigan was his greatest strength regarding results thanks to a decent qualifying run there.
Besides, Suarez continued to cash in some good results intermediate and larger tracks as well as maintaining his Bristol finishing record:
- 8th, Pocono
- 4th from 9th, Michigan 1
- 8th from 1st, Kentucky
- 5th from 11th, Michigan
- 8th, Bristol 2
But there’s another side of Suarez that he couldn’t maintain, which is the consistency.
The poor Daytona record, as well as his road course performances despite an alright final few regular-season races, ultimately denied his Playoffs berth.
It’s a bummer for him not to get that spot when SHR didn’t manage to secure all four cars into the finals as they did before in 2018.
Even though Suarez has picked up a couple of more gains learned from his stint at Joe Gibbs Racing, it’s difficult to see the comparison of Suarez v the other 3 SHR cars that have booked in for the Playoffs which does sound a sign of disappointment for him and the No.41 car.
In the last ten races of the season, Suarez still struggled to catch up towards the front end of the field.
Yes, some are okay finishes in the Top 15-20 mark.
But he also recorded four times outside the Top 30 with just two DNFs.
The only positives Suarez demonstrated was two Top 10s throughout the post-regular season:
- 9th, Richmond
- 3rd, Texas
At least, Suarez maintained a decent track record competed at the two respective venues at the top level.
Suarez may have lost his ride at SHR over delayed sponsorship packages for 2020.
But at least, it’s a good season to remember for him which is better than 2018:
- Top 5 percentage went up by around 3%, 8.3 to 11.1
- Top 10 improved by 5% from 25.8 to 30.6
- Finished 17th in the drivers’ standings, three places up from 2018
His qualifying runs looked impressive, having shaved down from 17 to 14 thanks to his pole award during July in Kentucky.
But one of the negatives he will need to work on is the finishing record.
Suarez improved so little in his finish average of around 16.4 from 18.5.
Yes, he has made some gains based on a disappointing 2018 season.
But he just fell short by one spot behind Ryan Newman after the cutoff at Indianapolis.
So unlucky for him not to achieve the playoff spot and retain the SHR No.41 seat.
New Year, New Team
Though don’t despair, he’s in a new challenge at Gaunt Brothers Racing, having still received sponsorship from Arris through Ruckus and CommScope as well as Coca-Cola.
And at last, Toyota is more than happy to have Suarez again where they first nurtured him through the junior then national ranks of the sport where he won the Xfinity Series Championship in 2016.
Now, he’ll have to bide his time in aiming to qualify every race manually since GBR doesn’t have a charter & it’s the team’s first full-time campaign.
But thanks to his excellent starting average and decent money on the board, Suarez should be fine making it to each race as well as aim regular Top 15/20 and occasional Top 5/10 runs.
It may be hard to tell if Suarez will be able to make the Playoffs this time.
Though it’s not at all possible that Gaunt Bros. can emulate Leavine Family Racing’s impressive 2019 campaign.
Look at how Joe Gibbs Racing provided technical support to Leavine, which made Matt DiBenedetto the license to thrill with 3 Top 5s, including a runner-up spot in Bristol’s summer race and 7 Top 10s.
The same says for Suarez with the help of Toyota Racing Development and his sponsorship money.
For now, we’ll see what Suarez has got to offer in the No.96 Toyota Camry as they aim to be one of the decent Toyota cars without the support of Joe Gibbs Racing this season.