Prior to the 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series season, consistency won race teams championships. This season it's abut balancing winning and a good finish, knowing when it's time to turn up the volume.
Second year XFINITY Series driver Daniel Suarez is currently in the midst of attempting to drive his way into Victory Lane. Driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, the team has found consistency and how to be fast. Over the last month the train of JGR cars has been nearly a half-second faster than the field, sweeping the first three positions in qualifying multiple times.
The Mexico native is thankful for the opportunity, but knows that consistency is the key to winning. Competing in the top 5, the team is looking to make the jump into Victory Lane.
Through 12 races, Suarez has recorded four top-5 finishes and racked up nine top 10s, while leading eight laps. The No. 19 car sat on the pole at Auto Club Speedway in March, and has started in the top 10 for each race this season.
While driving for JGR, Suarez compares his notes with 2009 XFINITY Series champion Kyle Busch and rookie teammate Erik Jones.
But Suarez knows that he can’t compare himself to them yet.
“We’re going to be there,” Suarez told Speedway Digest. “It’s just a matter of time. They have Kyle, who has a lot more racing experience than me, and Erik has more experience at the national level than me. We are going to be there for sure.”
The 24-year-old came into Pocono as the point’s leader by 14 markers over JR Motorsports’ Elliott Sadler. The No. 1 car has a victory, as opposed to Suarez, locking Sadler into the Chase. But Suarez believes if the team keeps running up front, that it’s not a matter if the team will win, rather when it will win.
“I think being patient,” Suarez said on how he can win. “I think putting some good races together has been our strength. I think we will win, but just have to be patient and stop worrying about wining because that is not helping us right now. We need to continue what we are doing and go from there.”
Joe Gibbs Racing has three full-time XFINITY Series cars, with two full-time drivers. Jones has two victories in 2016, but has seven top-10 finishes. The new Chase formant to the series revolves around winning and consistency, which the team feels they have.
Jones and Sadler are the two XFINITY Series regulars to enter Victory Lane in 2016. Suarez has a best result of second at Las Vegas, where he finished just behind Busch, who was in the midst of winning three straight races in the series.
According to several drivers, JGR is the team one must go through in order to win a race this season. The competition between the teammates is extremely high because they want to outdo the other one and cross the checkered flag first.
“I think the series is getting better, but Joe Gibbs Racing is on top and I know that my teammates have a lot of competition and the biggest competition is in house,” he said. “It’s a good company and a good organization. I’m excited to be a part of this organization and hopefully we can put something together to get a victory.”
The only races that Suarez has finished outside of the top 10 in 2016 was a 12th-place effort at Texas and at Charlotte, he got caught up in a wreck on Lap 25 when he slid into some oil that was laying on the racetrack. He came back to finish 14th at the 1.5-mile racetrack.
While completing all but one lap through the first 12 events, Suarez is consistently consistent. In order to take that next step, he feels he needs to get even more out of their racecars.
“I think everything is about being smart and knowing what we can get out of our racecar during the race,” Suarez elaborated. “When you have a third-place car, finish third. If you have a racecar that can finish third, then you’ll have a racecar that can finish second and then first.”
Last season, Suarez had 18 top-10 finishes in the 33-race schedule, with a best finish of second at Bristol in the spring, but led 54 laps. In his rookie campaign, he was also working with Eric Phillips. This year he is working with Scott Graves.
Graves is in the midst of his first year with the JGR organization. The veteran crew chief has spent the last four years as a crew chief for Roush Fenway Racing, including a championship with Chris Buescher last year. He has four wins on his resume in 80 career races as a crew chief in the XFINITY Series.
Since the crew chief swap, Suarez’ average starting position and average finishing position has both increased by over four positions. His confidence is at an all-time high, and Graves is accustomed to being in the points lead as he held that position with Buescher for 26 races in 2015.
If the Latin American driver does get a victory in the XFINTIY Series, he will become the first Hispanic driver to win a race in the series since 2007, when Juan Pablo Montoya was triumphant at Mexico City.
“I’m very lucky to be a Latin American driver and I feel proud to represent a lot of people up here in the United States,” Suarez said. “That would be really cool to do it this year and we are going to work hard to get there.”
It has been a quick rise for the Latino driver. Suarez competed in the NASCAR Mexico Series for four full-time seasons between 2011 and 2014. In those years he had a best championship result of second in 2013. Despite winning five races the following season, he finished sixth in the standings.
Suarez has raced 19 events in the Camping World Truck Series with eight top-five finishes with four second-place efforts.