Daniel Suárez and the No. 41 Haas Automation Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) make the relatively short drive to Darlington (S.C.) Raceway for Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race under the lights. It will be the third career Cup Series start for Suárez at one of the sport’s oldest tracks.
Suárez enters this weekend coming off of an eighth-place finish two weeks ago at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. That strong run moved the 27-year-old up to the 16th and final playoff-eligible position in the point standings. With two regular-season races remaining, Suárez knows every point is valuable as he tries to secure a playoff spot for the first time in his Cup Series career. Last year, all four SHR entries secured a playoff spot and at least one regular-season victory. SHR teammate Kevin Harvick has already secured his spot in this year’s playoffs with his wins in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, and earlier this month at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
Once again, Darlington plays host to NASCAR’s annual “Throwback Weekend,” featuring unique, retro paint schemes on the racecars teams will sport with the blessing of their partners. Suárez’s No. 41 Haas Automation Mustang will shed its traditional red-and-black Haas scheme in favor of an orange-and-white look to mirror team co-owner Tony Stewart’s 2005 Cup Series championship-winning scheme – one of Stewart’s three Cup Series championship-winning themes the SHR contingent will showcase this weekend. Teammate Aric Almirola will pilot a replica of Stewart’s 2002 car, and Clint Bowyer will pilot Stewart’s 2011 championship car. It’s all designed to honor Stewart’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next year. The three-time-champion driver and owner earned 49 wins, 187 top-fives and 308 top-10s, along with 15 pole awards during his illustrious career.
After spending last weekend’s final open date on this year’s schedule in his native country of Mexico for a friend’s wedding, Suárez returns to intense racing this weekend at Darlington. He has two Cup Series starts at the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval and knows he will need to greatly improve his finishing position from past results to help secure his spot in the playoffs. His first Cup Series start at Darlington ended prematurely with an accident, and last year’s race resulted in a 29th-place finish.
The Ford driver has been successful in two NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at the “Track Too Tough To Tame,” both resulting in third-place finishes after qualifying efforts of second and fifth, respectively, and he’s led 14 laps in the series there.
“Darlington is tough because the track is different from everywhere else we go,” Suárez said. “Corners one and two, we don’t have anything even close to those corners at other tracks. Corners three and four are tricky, and the fall-off on the (tire) grip is massive. It’s important to have a good, long-run car and decent short-run speed, as well, and stay away from the wall. The closer you go to the wall, the faster you go, and it’s so inviting, but you usually end up hitting it. You have to be smart and patient and know the limit.”
Haas Automation, founded in 1983 by SHR co-owner Gene Haas, is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. The company manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are constructed in the company’s 1.1-million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Oxnard, California, and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.