Daniel Suárez exits his No. 99 Chevrolet on pit road at Darlington Raceway
James Thomas | NASCAR Studios

Daniel Suárez rides out topsy-turvy playoff opener, vows payback for Bell

Editor’s note: Daniel Suárez will be spotlighted in USA Network’s new unscripted series “Race for the Championship” airing this fall. The second episode is Thursday, Sept. 8, at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

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DARLINGTON, S.C. — Daniel Suárez opened the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs at Darlington Raceway with an up-and-down day, one that was marked by two penalties and a warning to one of his postseason foes.

Suárez settled for 18th place in Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500, with his No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet scored as the final car on the lead lap. He’s also the final driver above the cutline in the playoff picture, ahead by just two points after the opening event in the 10-race postseason.

RELATED: Darlington results | Playoff standings

The first of the two penalties had its origins in Saturday’s inspection line, when the No. 99 Camaro failed three passes in pre-qualifying tech. That meant a last-place starting spot in the 36-car field, plus a pass-through penalty shortly after the green flag. Suárez quickly regained the lead lap, benefiting as the free pass when a brief rain shower forced a caution period after five green-flag laps.

Suárez moved forward after that, netting stage points after the second segment and racing into the top five at one point. But his second penalty came when he sped on pit road on Lap 273 out of 367, and he never quite rallied all the way back.

“There were a lot of positives today, but definitely some negatives as well,” Suárez said. “We were able to overcome the issues fairly quickly. I would say that probably Stage 1, it took the entire Stage 1 to be able to recover. And then after that, I felt like we were fine. I felt like we were a car capable of running in the top five, and then on that green-flag stop, I just sped on pit road. It was very, very tight. But anyway, that was my bad. It was on my end, and we have everything cleaned up. But overall, like I said, there’s a lot of positive things. The car had good speed, and the guys did a good job, pit crew did an amazing job. We just have to continue to build.”

But Suárez’s other takeaway was making a note of how he was raced during a Lap 227 jam-up through Turns 1 and 2. Suárez’s car was squeezed in a contest for position with fellow playoff drivers Joey Logano and Christopher Bell. It was Bell, who continued on to finish fifth, who drew the ire of Suárez.

“With the 22 (Logano), I don’t remember. I don’t think we had contact with him. For sure, with the 20 (Bell),” Suárez said. “He owes me one. I will decide when to get that one back because it shouldn’t have happened like that. He hit me pretty good. I feel lucky that actually I was able to continue. I hit the wall very, very hard, and I lost like five positions on that stage. I will get him back eventually, but I mean that just tells you how smart are some drivers. This is only Round 1, it’s the first race and we’re racing like that. We weren’t even in Stage 3 yet. But it is what it is. I can only control the 99 car.”

RELATED: How Darlington shook up the playoffs

As for the timing of that vowed retaliation, Suárez was noncommittal.

“Whenever I need, I’m gonna get him back,” Suárez said. “I’m not saying that it’s gonna be in Kansas or Bristol, but it’s definitely … he owes me one, and I’m gonna save that for later.”