Firsts. They can be exhilarating and thrilling, as well as daunting and intimidating. They can require patience and, more often than not, once achieved, they are incredibly gratifying. Trying to notch that first, however, can be vexing.
NASCAR driver Daniel Suarez is in the midst of his sophomore season competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. With only 48 career Cup Series starts, a litany of firsts await the 26-year old driver. After his runner-up performance in last weekend’s Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Suarez could be on the verge of scratching off a pretty significant first and it could happen as soon as this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte.
Driving the No. 19 Interstate Batteries Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), Suarez is set to make just his third Cup Series start at Charlotte when he takes the green flag Sunday. His two previous Charlotte starts took place during his rookie campaign, resulting in an 11th-place finish in the 2017 Coca-Cola 600 and a sixth-place effort in the fall. Suarez intends to make a little noise this weekend and could be poised to do so based on his performance during last Saturday night’s Monster Energy Open and All-Star non-points races.
Suarez finished first in Stage 2 of the Open to earn a starting spot in the main event – the annual All-Star Race. While he started from deep in the field, Suarez not only wasted no time in making his way to the front, he also dug in and battled for the lead as the second segment came to a close. He went on to maintain a presence among the top-five for the rest of the race and battled eventual winner Kevin Harvick for the top spot before settling for the second-place finish.
And now he’s ready for more and aims to add his name to the impressive list of current and former drivers who picked up their first career NASCAR Cup Series wins while racing at Charlotte. Ten drivers in all scored their first series win at the 1.5-mile oval, featuring names like Jeff Gordon, David Pearson, Matt Kenseth and Bobby Labonte – the latter also doing so while racing the iconic green and white colors of Interstate Batteries for JGR.
As the founding partner and “Official Battery of Joe Gibbs Racing,” Interstate Batteries has been powering the team for more than 25 years. Since 1992, JGR’s first full season in NASCAR, Interstate Batteries has played an integral role in the organization’s development from start-up race team to championship powerhouse.
While this will mark the first time Suarez, the native of Monterrey, Mexico, has raced the “Outrageously Dependable” brand in a Cup Series race, he has competed with the Interstate Batteries logo on multiple occasions in Xfinity competition. And when it comes to racing in the Xfinity series, Suarez has finished no worse than 12th place in the five series races in which he’s competed at Charlotte. Two top-fives, four top-10 finishes, one pole and 115 laps led highlight his Xfinity record at Charlotte.
The opportunity to score that first career win provides a healthy dose of motivation for Suarez and company, but a win this weekend would be even more impactful given the significance of Memorial Day weekend and the recognition that will be bestowed upon fallen members of the military. As part of NASCAR Salutes – the industry’s collective expression of respect and gratitude for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, past and present – the No. 19 Interstate Batteries Toyota will bear the name of Corporal Cody A. Putman. Born on Aug. 31, 1981 and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, Putman died April 12, 2007 while serving in Baghdad, Iraq. The 25-year-old, his fellow soldiers on patrol and two Iraqi interpreters lost their lives when they encountered an improvised explosive device.
Suarez will definitely be scratching one first off the list this weekend when he takes the green flag in the Interstate Batteries paint scheme in Cup Series competition. A fast racecar, solid game plan and a little bit of luck could provide the catalyst he needs to knock off another first by scoring a trip to victory lane in NASCAR’s longest race of the year.