Daniel Suárez ready for 'awesome opportunity'
April 22, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
Daniel Suárez has used the phrase "dream season" more than once this year in describing how 2014 has treated him on the race track. This weekend, the dream sequence will get both better and busier.
Joe Gibbs Racing announced Tuesday morning that Suárez will make his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut in Friday night's ToyotaCare 250 (7 p.m. ET, ESPNews) at Richmond International Raceway. The 22-year-old native of Monterrey, Mexico, will wheel the team's No. 20 Toyota with sponsorship from Silent Circle and Telcel in his first NASCAR national series start.
"It's an awesome opportunity," said Suárez, who has four wins already in NASCAR regional and touring series competition this season. "Opening the season this way, again, it just seems like I'm in a dream, so it's pretty cool. All this hard work is paying off in the beginning of the year."
Friday night's venture into the Nationwide circuit will create a logistical challenge for Suárez, who also competes full-time in both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series. After his Nationwide debut, the NASCAR Next driver and product of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity initiative will change cockpits for the K&N East race, the nightcap of Richmond's Friday doubleheader.
As soon as that race ends, Suárez will hit the road for Charlotte, N.C., to catch a 6 a.m. flight for his hometown race weekend for the Mexico Series at Autódromo Monterrey. If all goes according to plan, he'll arrive in time for the first or second practice ahead of the Sunday afternoon main event, which he won last year.
"We're going to have a busy weekend," Suárez said. "It's definitely difficult because it depends on many things -- the timing, the flights, everything. If everything is handled well, we can make it. It's tight. ... I think we're going to have a pretty good shot at it, but it will be tough and tiring."
Few things have gone wrong for Suárez early on in his full-time series in 2014. He's driven Rev Racing's No. 6 to two victories in the first two races on the K&N East schedule and ranks second in the season-long standings. Suárez also has an impeccable two wins and a runner-up finish in three Mexico Series races thus far, placing him firmly in the points lead.
"We started the season pretty strong, but we need to keep working," Suárez said. "The Drive for Diversity program from NASCAR has believed in me, and they've put their confidence in me again. That's pretty cool, and I'm grateful to them."
With his maiden voyage in the Nationwide Series around the corner, Suárez has taken a learning approach. He participated in pit-stop practice Monday at the JGR shops and hopes to make the most of extra track time Thursday and Friday in both series to prepare himself for the longer race distance, the new competition and variations in tires, horsepower and handling between the two cars.
He's also taken cues from former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth, who has driven the No. 20 to top-10 finishes in all but one Nationwide race this season. Suárez hopes to lean on the Sprint Cup regular for advice as he navigates his Nationwide debut, the first leg in a packed three-race weekend.
"Obviously, Matt Kenseth has a lot of experience and he's a very, very good driver. He's one of the drivers that I've followed because I like his style," Suárez said. "I think the (competition) level in NASCAR racing is so hard right now, you don't just need talent to be competitive right now, you also need to be smart. Matt's one of the smartest drivers at the top level.
"I'm here to learn about everything in this new world in the Nationwide Series, but I feel lucky to be in this position."