BROOKLYN, Mich. — Michigan International Speedway has already been the site of a historic first for Daniel Suarez, who launched to his breakthrough NASCAR XFINITY Series victory here just a year ago.
Back in the Great Lakes State, the ground seems fertile with potential for another landmark victory. Suarez has since made the jump to his rookie year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, which has enjoyed a flurry of first-time winners with more than half the season still to run.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and last week’s first-timer, Ryan Blaney, are the newest drivers on the list. Is Suarez next? Friday at Michigan, he said he’s getting closer to the neighborhood.
“Seeing all these kind of victories always gives you like an extra boost to keep working and keep digging because already Ryan and I, we’ve been racing together for a long time since the K&N days,” Suarez said Friday, ahead of Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM). “Austin, obviously we’ve been racing for a while in the XFINITY Series, and it’s very cool to see this new generation of drivers being successful in NASCAR. I was very, very happy for Ryan last week — that was an incredible race and incredible win.
“Overall, I feel like we have to keep working on ourselves. We have to keep working on the race team. I feel like, like I said, we’re getting better, but it’s not easy. It’s not easy to win races in the Cup Series. It’s not easy at all. You have to get there and then one day put everything together to get that win. I feel like now, we are getting more comfortable running in the top 10. We have to keep working to make that top 10, be a top five and after that I feel like we can have a shot every weekend. Once you start running in the top five, you can be a contender.”
The gains have been modest thus far for the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota camp. In the past four races, he has a seventh place (Kansas) and a career-best sixth (Dover) to show for his improvement.
That development has come even as the No. 19 team has undergone transition, announcing an indefinite personal leave for crew chief Dave Rogers on March 29. Scott Graves — who helped guide Suarez to the XFINITY Series championship last season — has filled in as an interim replacement, atop the pit box for a premier-series team for the first time since 2013.
Suarez said he’s strengthened his communication with Graves in the nine races since the change, but also expressed his best wishes for Rogers’ speedy return.
“Scott has been doing great, just as I was expecting,” Suarez said. “He’s a great guy outside the race track. We get along very well and he’s a very smart person. The only thing that he needed was some time and to gain some experience at the Cup level as a crew chief, so I feel like he’s been great. I feel like we are getting better every weekend and we had a little hard time last weekend in Pocono, but, you know, that happens to every single race team out there, so I feel like overall we have learned a lot together and we’re moving in the right direction.
“About Dave Rogers, I just hope that he comes back soon to Joe Gibbs Racing to be a part of the family. He’s a great person as well, a great crew chief with a lot of experience and I hope he comes back because the last time I heard from him he was doing much better and things are getting better, so I wouldn’t be surprised if maybe he’ll come back to do something at the race team one day.”