Even while leading late Monday afternoon, Daniel Suarez joked he didn’t know what he was doing during a mid-race interview as he navigated the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The stat sheet and official rundown said otherwise after the Food City Dirt Race, as Suarez guided Trackhouse Racing Team to its first top-five finish in the NASCAR Cup Series. The 29-year-old Monterrey, Mexico, native made the most of his 150th Cup start, leading a career-best 58 laps and placing fourth, holding the top spot until eventual winner Joey Logano swept by.
“Overall I felt that we’re very close. That always brings a smile to my face,” Suarez said post-race after netting his first top-five result since November 2019 at Texas Motor Speedway. “But it wasn’t close enough, so we have to keep working. Now I’m excited actually that we’re going to come back next year with another shot to race and compete for the win in Bristol on dirt.”
Suarez had soaked in his first-ever dirt experience just six days ago at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, Tennessee. Midway through the main event, however, he had the look of an old pro. Suarez — who said it took 50-100 laps to find his comfort level — doled out a classic Bristol bump-and-run on early dominator Martin Truex Jr. to put his No. 99 Chevrolet in command.
Though Logano permanently took control in the 193rd of 253 laps, Suarez held his spot among the top five through ever-changing track conditions and a fateful two-lap overtime dash.
“The last 50 laps for some reason I lost that grip,” Suarez said. “I just couldn’t do much about it. From being a first- or second-place car, I became a fifth- to fourth-place car. That’s exactly where we ended. It’s a learning curve. Like I said, I’m still learning about all this dirt racing. My first time was actually just five days ago. I wasn’t expecting the race track to change that much, but it did. That’s something I have to keep in mind for next year.”
Monday’s result marked a breakout performance for the Trackhouse group, which made a splashing entry into the Cup Series this season with co-owners Justin Marks and Pitbull, plus a technical association with Richard Childress Racing. The organization promised to shake up the status quo in joining the sport, and its early on-track impressions have begun to make incremental inroads toward competing with NASCAR’s more established powerhouse teams.
Suarez and Trackhouse impressed for the second consecutive weekend. Last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the No. 99 forged into the top 10 before a late-race speeding penalty unraveled a potentially higher finish. That run combined with Monday’s top five, Suarez said, gives one of NASCAR’s newest teams a building block for more.
“It’s the second week in a row that we’ve been running strong,” Suarez said. “I don’t see this as, OK, we run good because we’re on dirt. I feel like everyone at Trackhouse Racing has done an incredible job to work hard on these cars, get them better. Really a lot of support from RCR, engines and chassis and everything. I feel like we still a long ways to go from where we want to be, but we’re heading the right direction.
“Hopefully we can compete in the top 10, top five like we’ve been doing the last couple weeks on a weekly basis. Eventually we’re going to get a trophy.”