BROOKLYN, Mich. — The clock is ticking for Daniel Suarez to earn his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win to catapult him into the playoffs, but he’s not sweating it.
With four races to go in the regular season, Suarez is 19th in the playoff standings, 89 points behind Alex Bowman at the cutline. A win, of course, would solidify his fate, regardless of how others perform.
That’s a task Suarez feels is not out of reach for him and the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 team.
“The team is capable to winning races and I feel like I’m capable to win races,” Suarez told NASCAR.com. “Unfortunately, we put ourselves in this position because we didn’t run well three months ago. We had the speed sometimes and sometimes we didn’t. We weren’t doing a good job fixing the problem.
“Right now, it seems like we have the problem fixed, but we are in a bad position for the playoffs,” he added. “Hopefully we can keep rolling in the right direction.”
If Suarez wants to get that elusive first win in Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), home of his first career Xfinity Series win, he’ll have some work to do after slapping the wall in the first round of qualifying. The 19 team stayed at the track late Friday evening to fix the damage to the right side of the car instead of rolling out the backup, but Suarez didn’t record a time and will start last.
Suarez has momentum on his side after finishing in the top five the past two races — second at Pocono and fourth at Watkins Glen. A checkered flag appears tantalizingly close, but starting deep in the field at Michigan will make it a more difficult task.
“Any time you can have a top-five run, you can have a shot to finish in Victory Lane,” Suarez said. “We just have to give ourselves more opportunities just like we have done the last few weeks. If we can keep doing that, eventually the win will come.”
Even JGR teammate Erik Jones — who earned his first Monster Energy Series win last month in Daytona — feels like Suarez can break into Victory Lane at any moment.
“He’s definitely a lot closer than he was a month or two ago,” Jones said. “Looking at his last three or four races, he’s been close enough, if things go right, to win. It’d be cool for JGR to see him win. I’d be good to get all four cars in the playoffs this year, all five Toyotas. We’re all hoping he can in the next few.”
The recent upward trend for Suarez is also a credit to the support he has received from teammate Kyle Busch, who has won six races so far this season and is a favorite for the Championship 4 in Homestead.
“Kyle is a great guy, an amazing driver and a great teammate, as well,” Suarez said. “It’s not for nothing that he’s one of the Big 3. He’s been racing in the Cup Series for a long time and it’s always good to have advice, comments and all kinds of information from a friend like him. He’s been very helpful, especially in the last month or so.”
As the playoffs loom, it would be reasonable to assume that the weight of the world is on the shoulders of Suarez. But he’s staying cool and confident.
“This isn’t pressure,” he said, “this is fun. I like it.”