As he did for much of his racing career, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Daniel Suarez forged his own path in qualifying Friday night for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 (on Sunday, March 31 at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
While his fellow competitors hesitated to make a lap, Suarez darted out onto the track alone. Ultimately, he was rewarded with a fourth-place qualifying effort at Texas Motor Speedway.
Suarez faced a similar challenging situation in NASCAR. No other Mexican driver had ascended through the top national tours to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series—until Suarez arrived as part of the Drive 4 Diversity program.
As a teenager, Suarez gained experience and exposure on the short tracks of Mexico. At 19, he added the NASCAR K&N Pro Series to his schedule. Visits to Richmond Raceway, Iowa Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway prepared him for that next leap, but Suarez still lacked that mentor he could rely on to avoid the pitfalls of aspiring racers.
“I watched Adrian Fernandez a lot,” Suarez said of the 54-year-old Mexico City racer who ran 10 Xfinity Series races between 2005-2008. “But when I came here to the U.S., I didn’t have anyone from Mexico or Latin America that I could go to to ask a question.”
Now, Suarez serves as a role model for other aspiring Hispanic racers.
“Today, there are a handful of kids that call me from Mexico that want to come here and are asking for my advice,” Suarez added. “Slowly, I am becoming ‘that guy’ for a lot of kids in Mexico. I’m very proud to be able to help them and try to be that person that I didn’t have when I was coming here.”
This year, Suarez has found a new home with Stewart-Haas Racing. He’s experiencing a level of comfort with crew chief Billy Scott and the No. 41 SHR Ford Mustang team that was missing in his meteoric rise to Cup. Last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, Suarez posted his second top-10 finish of the season. Plus, his fourth-place qualifying run last night was his best since joining the team.
“I’m happier,” Suarez said. “It’s always good to be with a group of guys like this. Last year, I wasn’t happy. It was just a little bit different and this year I’m more relaxed and just hoping to do my thing and I feel like we have more speed. Last year, there was a lot of inconsistency. Right now, I feel like we’re consistent and moving in the right direction.
“Last year was different, but for sure I’m more happy and more relaxed. My team, Billy Scott is a great crew chief. I have great engineers and a lot of good people behind me and I feel like we’re gonna do great things together. We just have to be patient and try to keep working in the direction we’re going so far. I don’t feel like we are where we want to be yet, but we have to be patient.”