After rough start, Suarez returns to comfort zone

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 17: Daniel Suarez, driver of the #18 Juniper Toyota, during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series DC Solar 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 17, 2017 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

AVONDALE, Ariz. – The start to the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season hasn’t gone the way Daniel Suarez would have hoped.

Pressed into service at NASCAR’s highest level by the abrupt departure of Carl Edwards during the offseason, Suarez crashed out of the Daytona 500 in 29th place and finished 21st and 20th in the subsequent two races at Atlanta and Las Vegas.

This week, however, the 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion returns to Phoenix International Raceway, where he has enjoyed unqualified success.

In four XFINITY races at PIR, Suarez has posted three top-fives. In two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts, he has a victory and a fourth-place run.

Accordingly, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate is enthused by the prospect of racing at Phoenix in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for the first time. Suarez participated in an organized test at Phoenix on Jan. 31-Feb. 1.

Suarez also won at PIR in the NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series and posted two top 10s in three starts in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.

“Overall, Phoenix is one of those places that doesn’t matter which series I’m going in, I feel very comfortable,” Suarez said. “It’s a place that I feel like I have maybe the most experience of the NASCAR race tracks that we go on this year.

“It’s always fun to come here and to race in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. It will be very helpful to have that test over a month ago. Hopefully, we can put something that we learn for today’s practice, hopefully be strong for Sunday.”