Daniel Suarez ‘comfortable’ at Phoenix, seeks more desert success

Photo courtesy of NASCAR/Getty Images

By Yvonne Jones, Staff Writer

Daniel Suarez has hit his sweet spot on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule with Phoenix Raceway.

In fact, it’s the “home track” for the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Arris Toyota Camry driver, who hails from Monterrey, Mexico. He will be running in the DC Solar 200 in the Xfinity Series on Saturday, then the Camp World 500 on Sunday.

“Overall, Phoenix is one of those places that doesn’t matter which series I’m going in, I feel very comfortable going,” said the 25-year-old Cup rookie. “It’s a place that I feel like I have maybe the most experience of the NASCAR racetracks that we go on this year, 2017.

Suarez, the NASCAR Xfinity Series champ last year, picked up three top 5s and three top 10s during his two years in NASCAR’s No. 2 series. He also won the Lucas Oil 150 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Phoenix last season.

But he developed a knack for the one-mile oval long before that. He found Victory Lane in NASCAR Peak Mexico Series Toyota 120 in 2014 and notched a pair of top 10s in three NASCAR K&N Pro Series West races there.

“It’s always fun to come here and to race in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series,” said Suarez, who starts 27th on Sunday. “It will be very helpful to have that test over a month ago. Hopefully we can put something that we learn for today’s practice, hopefully be strong for Sunday.”

Suarez believes running in the Xfinity Series on Saturdays has been beneficial to his Cup program. In the season-opening Cup race at Daytona, Suarez wrecked and finished 29th. He ended up 21st at Atlanta and then came home 20th at Las Vegas last weekend.

“It helps,” he said. “It definitely does help. I can tell you something, is very different. I’m used to racing two series in the same weekend, between the Truck Series and the Xfinity Series. Now racing XFINITY Series and Cup Series is pretty different. There’s a lot more going on. The Cup Series is a way, way more demanding race.

“But overall I think it’s very helpful. I have several races this year in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, 18, one more in the 20, if I’m right. I feel like actually in Vegas I learned some good stuff from the tires. That’s a good thing. As far as we have the same tire, there’s a lot that you can learn. If for some reason they start changing that, maybe won’t be as helpful. But there is always something that you can learn from the Xfinity Series to apply in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.”

It has been a whirlwind for the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate.  He became the first Latin American to claim a major NASCAR title when he won the Xfinity championship at Homestead in November. Then in January, he was promoted to replace Carl Edwards, who abruptly announced that he was stepping away from the sport.

Suarez said he did expect some bumps to start his rookie campaign in the Cup series.

“Last year was amazing,” he said. “The year before was very, very good, as well. This year, so far it’s been a little bit tough. I knew it was going to be like that.”

But Phoenix is a welcome sight for Suarez, who enters the weekend armed with tips from his predecessor and previous success in the desert.

“I learned some good stuff from him,” said Suarez, referring to Edwards.  “In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, I’ve been lucky enough to be successful pretty much every time that we come here.”



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