In NASCAR, as in other sports, every top prospect doesn’t hit immediately. That’s the case for Daniel Suarez, who has now been released from two premier rides in the last two seasons.
Suarez, the 2016 Xfinity Series Champion, was rushed into a Cup ride by Joe Gibbs Racing after the sudden and shocking retirement of Carl Edwards. Gibbs had already worked out a deal with Furniture Row Racing and Erik Jones at the time to get Jones started in the Cup Series. That left just one legitimate option to fill the seat of their No. 19 entry.
The results simply weren’t up to JGR standards. Suarez came home with just one top five finish as a rookie, backing that up with three more in 2018. The pressure was already on to perform at NASCAR’s best team, but Suarez fell victim to a business decision at the end of his sophomore season.
Gibbs essentially absorbed Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team for the 2019 season after Barney Visser shut the team down. The result? Gibbs was forced to give up on Suarez after just two seasons.
Suarez landed another top opportunity, however, joining Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2019 season. He replaced Kurt Busch, but for the most part, his performance didn’t chance. Suarez put up four top fives, a career best, but once again failed to make the playoffs.
SHR opted to go with Cole Custer for the 2020 season.
So where did that leave Suarez? The 28 year old driver was suddenly short on options. Openings at Front Row, Richard Childress and JTG Daugherty were quickly filled. Speculation grew that he could even go back down to the Xfinity Series to replace Tyler Reddick.
According to multiple reports this week, Suarez will compete with the Gaunt Brothers in the Cup Series in 2020. He will drive the car that Parker Kligerman drove part time over the last couple of seasons. It’s a sharp downgrade for the former top prospect, but as we’ve seen recently, it’s not exactly a death sentence.
Matt DiBenedetto is the best current example, scratching and clawing his way back into a top ride after several seasons with bottom-tier teams. Ross Chastain is another. Of course, the list of flamed-out talents that took lower-tier rides is much longer.
But for now, Daniel Suarez at least has a fighting chance.
2020 will be the first full-time season for the Gaunt Brothers, who operate out of the Toyota camp. The team made 15 starts in 2019, bringing home a best finish of 15th twice with Kligerman at Daytona and Talladega. Their best non-plate finish was a 22nd at the Roval in the fall.
On average, this is a 26th-31st place type of ride. Can Suarez elevate them to a 22nd-25th place team? As tough as that may be to accept, that has to be the primary objective for the fourth-year driver this season.