Don’t worry about Daniel Suárez.
And don’t buy into the assumption that, in promoting Suárez to fill the seat of departing Carl Edwards, Joe Gibbs Racing is making the same mistake it made in 2009 when the organization threw then-18-year-old Joey Logano into the deep end of the pool.
Laboring under the weight of replacing Tony Stewart in the No. 20 Toyota, Logano never blossomed at JGR. It took four years of seasoning and a move to Team Penske for Logano to realize his enormous potential in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car.
Suárez, on the other hand, is already 25, and possesses a ferocious work ethic matched only by his desire to learn – and learn quickly.
The Mexican driver has paid his dues, lots of them. Starting in go-karts, Suárez excelled in both the NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series and NASCAR K&N Pro Series before advancing to the national touring level in the NASCAR Camping World Truck and XFINITY Series.
He comes to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with championship credentials, having triumphed in the inaugural XFINITY Series Chase last year.
Early in the 2016 campaign, however, Suárez didn’t look like a potential champion. Yes, he had plenty of speed, but his lack of experience at and knowledge of the tracks that made up the brunt of the XFINITY schedule showed – sometimes glaringly.
But Suárez is a sponge, eager to seek out and absorb new information. One of Suárez’s foremost resources has been a driver who has won championships in both the XFINITY and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and also owned the Camping World Truck Series Toyotas Suárez drove on that circuit.
In fact, Suárez’s weekly routine included a phone call to JGR teammate and KBM team owner Kyle Busch, who was more than willing to share the knowledge that has made him the all-time victory leader in the XFINITY Series.
With Busch’s help, as well as advice from Edwards, Suárez learned the language of the asphalt as adroitly as he picked up English by watching sitcoms and sports on television. When he needed help with his restarts, he went to the undisputed master, Ron Hornaday Jr.
By the second half of the season, he was a contender. Suárez won for the first time last year in the 13th race, at Michigan. He won again on a return trip to Dover and clinched the championship with a victory in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Don’t think for a minute, though, that Suárez’s hunger has been sated by an XFINITY title. It wasn’t to win in “the series where names are made” that Suárez drove a 1994 Volkswagen bug from Mexico to North Carolina to pursue his dream.
Though a jump from XFINITY to Cup is a difficult proposition for any driver, Suárez is ready to make the move, albeit earlier than planned given Edwards startling announcement that he is stepping away from his full-time ride in the No. 19 Camry.
Suárez has a strong support system that includes business manager Jimmy Morales, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, Chip Ganassi Racing co-owner Felix Sabates, sponsor Arris and automaker Toyota. All are fully invested in Suárez’s prospects for success at NASCAR’s highest level.
“I wasn’t expecting to be in this position right now,” Suárez said at the Wednesday press conference announcing his promotion. “It’s been an amazing time. This is hard to believe that I’m in this position. We started all this dream 10 years ago with NASCAR, and right now to be in this position, to be in this opportunity, is just something amazing for me and for everyone that has been helping me, of course.
“I know that it won’t be easy. We have a lot to work. I have a lot to learn. But I’m sure that it couldn’t happen in a better situation with (crew chief) Dave Rogers and the entire 19 group. It’s just an amazing team. I feel like it’s just a perfect place to be for a rookie like me that is really hungry to learn and to go out there and to perform well…
“It’s been an amazing journey, and I can’t wait for the future.”
To borrow a phrase from the late George Allen, for Suárez, the future is now. And the first measure of success in that future will be how long it takes Suárez to get his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup win.
The second will be how long it takes Kyle Busch to stop returning his phone calls.