By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
The Food City Dirt Race was more than just a top-five run for Daniel Suarez and Trackhouse Racing.
The fifth-year NASCAR Cup Series driver had a career day in the 253-lap race. Suarez drove his way up through the field to take the lead just past the halfway mark of the race. On several successive restarts, the No. 99 Camping World Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE held off charges from Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr, and Joey Logano.
In the closing laps of the second Stage, Suarez began to fight a tight condition on restarts. Logano pounced. The duo fought back and forth for several laps before the Team Penske driver snatched the lead with two to go in Stage 2.
In the final Stage, Suarez restarted second. However, as the final run appeared to stay green to the finish, the 29-year-old slowly began to slip down the running order. A late-race caution provided Suarez the opportunity to jump back up the running order. As Truex encountered trouble in overtime, the Monterrey, Mexico native moved into fourth before taking the checkered flag.
“To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing,” admitted Suarez. “But we’re having fun. Everyone at Trackhouse Racing did an amazing job. This is the second week in a row that we’ve had very fast race cars capable of running in the Top-five, Top-10. I couldn’t be prouder of all these guys (like) Justin Marks, Ty Norris, and everyone that helps in this program; Camping World, Chevy, CommScope.
“Everyone has been a huge support of myself. It just feels so good to be back. It’s been a little bit difficult the last year, and it feels so good to be able to race with these guys and to have some fun up front. Hopefully our time will come soon.”
Prior to the first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice session, Suarez had never turned a lap on a dirt track. To get more experience, he competed in the Truck race for Young’s Motorsports. In the Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt, Suarez started 26th and finished 17th after getting collected in a mid-race incident.
In the Cup race, Suarez started 18th. It wasn’t until after the first competition caution that the driver of the team owned by Justin Marks and Pitbull began to realize the speed of his car. Taking advantage of that speed, Suarez climbed up to finish Stage 1 in fourth.
The top-five finish is the first for Suarez since the 2019 Texas Motor Speedway Playoff race. It is his ninth top-five in the Cup Series and came in his 150th career start. The top-five is also the first in the history of Trackhouse Racing.
The 58 laps that Suarez led on the Bristol Dirt is the most that he had led in a single Cup Series race in his career. That bested the 52 laps that he led at Kentucky Speedway in 2019.
“It was a good day for us, running up front, leading laps, staying in the top-10, top-five the entire race,” explained Suarez. “But, if you look at it, last week we were pretty similar. We led laps, but I made a mistake on the last pit stop and that took away our chance to finish fifth or sixth. It’s the second week in a row that we’ve been running strong.
“I don’t see this as ‘okay, we ran good because we’re on dirt.’ I feel that everyone at Trackhouse Racing as done an incredible job. They work hard on these cars, we’re getting better. We get a lot of support from (Richard Childress Racing), engines and chassis.
“We’re still a long way to go from where we want to be, but we’re heading in the right direction. Hopefully we can compete in the top-10, top-five, like how we’ve been in the past couple weeks on a weekly basis. Eventually, we are going to get a trophy.”
The fourth-place finish moved Suarez up from 23rd to 20th in the points standings. He is 28-points behind the Playoff cutoff, currently held by Alex Bowman. Suarez is 183 markers behind points leader Hamlin.
Feature Photo Credit: Andrew Coppley / Harold Hinson Photography