Daniel Suarez brings win streak to Phoenix
February 26, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
The start of the 2014 season has already had plenty of "pinch me" moments for NASCAR Next driver Daniel Suarez. It's part of why the 22-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico, reacted the way he did after notching two victories in a three-day stretch this month in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
"I feel like this is a dream," Suarez said, moments after winning the UNOH Battle at the Beach on Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.
Dreaming or not, the new reality for Suarez is a blazing-hot start to the year, capitalizing on the dramatic progress he made over the latter half of 2013 with the Rev Racing team. The product of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity initiative competes full-time in the K&N East tour, where he wound up third in the championship standings last year, and in the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series, where he was the runner-up in the season-long fight.
"I really feel like we're going to be one team to beat in 2014."
-- Daniel Suarez
Spanning back to last year's triumph in the Mexico Series' season finale in Mexico City, Suarez carries a three-race win streak in NASCAR touring series events heading into Friday night's Mexico Series opener at Phoenix International Raceway. While springing out of the starting gate in 2014 means plenty, Suarez is quick to offer his gratitude for merely the chance to be behind the wheel.
"I just feel lucky to be part of this, to have this opportunity," Suarez said. "I feel like many drivers in Mexico wish to have this kind of opportunity ... so I want to try to do my best in everything I do in every race. Just trying to win all we can."
The way Suarez closed last season seemed to signal bigger things to come in 2014. He finished among the top three in six of the final eight races, including four runner-up finishes, to become the highest-finishing international driver in the standings in K&N Pro Series East history. For Suarez, the key to improvement on the track was becoming more fluent in his communication skills to relay information to his No. 6 Toyota team.
"The English in my second language at the beginning of 2013 was difficult to get the right communication with my crew to put the race car in the right line," Suarez said. "I feel like in the first half of last year, we all learned a lot together. Everyone on the team with the No. 6, we know each other really well. I feel like this communication is getting better and better, and that's why I think we closed very strong in 2013, and we're opening 2014 the same way."
It's a long way from the 11-year-old who first got the itch to race when a friend by chance invited him to test a go-cart. The development hasn't been lost on team owner Max Siegel, a strong proponent of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program. Thanks to the stellar start, Siegel says, his driver hasn't lacked for confidence, either.
"Number one, he's been extremely focused on being a professional -- not just a professional race car driver," Siegel said. "So I see him studying the culture of the garage, the NASCAR culture and soaking it all in. To me, I see him thriving. It's been impressive to see his commitment on the track, off the track, and just the maturity each week. I'm really excited where he is right now."
Suarez's second season begins this weekend with the Mexico Toyota Series opener. He took up residency in Charlotte, N.C., a little more than two years ago to be closer to NASCAR's hub for teams and personnel, but the rigors of running a 16-race K&N East Series schedule concurrent with a 15-race schedule closer to his home country have put his frequent-flyer ability to the test.
Tricky travel logistics aside, it's just another wrinkle to the opportunity that's become a dream-like reality.
"All of it's getting better," Suarez said, "and I really feel like we're going to be one team to beat in 2014."