WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Daniel Suárez didn’t seem particularly elated about finishing third at Watkins Glen International, even though he had just achieved a career best in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Perhaps that’s because the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender is growing accustomed to success.
Consider this: Suárez received a battlefield promotion into the Monster Energy Series when Carl Edwards announced his sudden, unexpected exit from the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the offseason. After a rough start to his rookie season, Suárez has posted four straight top 10s. The third-place finish at Watkins Glen was the first top five of his career.
In Sunday’s I Love New York 355, Suárez also collected his first stage win of the season, blocking Martin Truex Jr. through the final corner and holding off the eventual race winner for the playoff point.
But to Suárez, the success is merely a reflection of steady progress, mirroring his 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series season, where he started slowly and finished with the championship.
“I think I mentioned in the beginning of the year that I was so looking forward to the second half of the year, as well, because I knew that the second half of the year we were going to be more competitive,” Suárez said.
“All the hard work from my team and from everyone in the 19 group and from Joe Gibbs Racing, TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Toyota, it’s paying off. In the beginning of the year, we were not like that. I wasn’t the same driver, either, and now I feel like we are moving in the right direction.
“We have speed pretty much every weekend now where we are running in the top 10. I don’t think it’s a surprise anymore to run in the top 10. We just have to keep it up. We have to keep ourselves calm, and hopefully we can catch a break in the next few weeks, month or so, to try to make it in the playoffs.”
Currently 15th in the standings and 129 points out of the last playoff-eligible position in points, Suárez would have to win one of the next four races to accomplish that goal.