By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Late-race pit stops, and mid-race repairs allowed Daniel Suarez to challenge for the win and take a top-five finish at Auto Club Speedway.
When the caution waved with eight laps to go in the WISE Power 400, Suarez was just outside the top-five. A fast pit stop by the No. 99 Freeway Insurance Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team moved the Trackhouse Racing driver up to second. Ahead of the final restart Suarez opted to take the inside lane, lining up alongside race leader Kyle Larson.
The 30-year-old NASCAR Cup Series driver slipped behind Larson as the field moved through Turns 1 and 2. With three laps to go, a push from fellow Team Chevy driver Erik Jones put Suarez in the lead entering Turn 1. He cleared Larson and led the field through the next set of corners. On the frontstretch, the Hendrick Motorsports retook the lead as Suarez lost momentum.
Over the final two laps, Suarez slipped from the lead down to second, and then third. Jones took third on the final lap. Suarez held off a charge from Joey Logano to take his first top-five finish of the season.
“That was the best pit crew I’ve ever had,” admitted Suarez. “It was crazy have a good pit crew like that. I just can’t wait to keep going in the season. Very, very happy to continue working with them. Mentally and physically, I feel great; my car is a little hurt right now. It was good, today we did an amazing job. It feels amazing to have a team like this behind you that support you all the time.”
Although he had the opportunity to challenge for the victory, Suarez didn’t believe that his team deserved to win at Auto Club. He ran towards the front throughout much of the race. However, contact with the outside wall damaged the rear diffuser. A lack of front grip on the short run also put Suarez at a disadvantage in the short run to the finish. While the pit crew were able to fix the diffuser, they ran out of time to aid the front grip.
“Today, we didn’t deserve the win, but we deserved second,” explained Suarez. “That’s what matters. My car was good, but it wasn’t quite as good as the top-five guys. In the long run, I think I can race with them. In the short run I was just a little bit too tight. I just didn’t have enough grip in the front to stay with them. We made a few mistakes in the race. The diffuser broke so we had to make a lot of pit stops to fix the diffuser.
“We’ll go home, clean up a few things, and then we’ll deserve that win. We’re going to get it and we’re going to enjoy it.”
Suarez’s top-five at Auto Club could be the last on the 2-mile configuration. In early 2020, NASCAR announced plans to turn the facility into a short track. However, NASCAR’s plans remain in limbo due to various factors.
“I hope (the track) stays like this,” states Suarez. “I love racing in California. Hope that we come more often, California is an amazing place. For me it’s almost like racing at home (in Monterrey, Mexico).”
The fourth-place finish was Suarez’s first top-five finish in the Cup Series since the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt race last season. It was also his 10th career top-five in 181 career starts. It was also his first top-10 finish since the Texas Motor Speedway playoff race last year.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Rachel Schuoler / Kickin’ the Tires.