By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Starting from pole for the first time in four years, the Mexican driver maintained the lead for the opening five circuits while the race’s only caution flag flew on Lap 3.
Three laps later, playoff competitor Michael McDowell overtook the Trackhouse Racing No. 99. From there, Suarez was in a tight battle with leader McDowell and Chase Elliott, another driver tightly in the playoff fight.
The day was looking bright for Suarez until a lap-33 pit stop turned into disaster, as the air hose got stuck underneath the left-front corner of the Chevy, delaying the stop and costing him precious time.
“We just needed to get to them,” Suarez said of Elliott and McDowell. “I feel like if I was with them like I was in Stages 1 and 2, I think we were going to be good to fight.
“Unfortunately, we were too far away. I cut that gap… I don’t know how much, but it just wasn’t enough, obviously. In the last stint, I was stronger than them but not a second stronger than them.”
The 77-lap green run to the end did, however, see Suarez keep his top-five day alive, coming home in third and 5.7 seconds off the leader.
“I wish I had a caution at the end when everyone was spread out and we had the mistake, I wish we had a caution to help our situation. But, it’s part of racing.
“I think we would have had a pretty good shot. It was going to be fun. It was going to be a good fight. I’m disappointed we didn’t get to see it.”
What did help Suarez’s situation were points. Though McDowell’s win takes out another open spot, Suarez gained ground on competitor Bubba Wallace, which is crucial since Wallace who now holds the elusive 16th and final seed.
Entering Indy 63 points behind Wallace, Suarez leaves 28 points back with two races to run.
“We have to continue to do the same thing,” he said. Nothing changes for us. We were good but not great.”
Two of Suarez’s three top-five finishes this season have come in the last six races. Partner that with fistfuls of stage points and another road course next week at Watkins Glen, Suarez is on the move.
However, he knows improvements are still needed.
“I already have a couple things in mind to improve,” he said. “[The team] were trying to keep me motivated, which I appreciate that. I love hearing that.
“If I can grade ourselves as a team, from 1-10, we did a solid 8. But to win, you need 9’s and 10’s. Today, we were an 8 so we need to get better next week.”