Daniel Suarez is officially the driver of the #41 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2019. Finally.
It was the news that everyone expected, but yet the drawn-out process until it was made official created doubt among some in the NASCAR world. Still, here we are: the 2016 Xfinity Series champion is on to drive for his second Monster Energy Cup Series team in just his third full-time season–although it may be just what the doctor ordered for a guy like Daniel.
Suarez was the model of consistency during his Xfinity Series championship run a few years ago, tallying 19 top 5s and 27 top 10s over the 33-race season, averaging a finish of 8.0 over the year, second only to longtime veteran Elliott Sadler’s 6.8.
Instead of defending his championship in 2017, though, Daniel Suarez was unexpectedly thrust into NASCAR’s top series when fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver Carl Edwards–who nearly won the Cup championship himself in 2016–announced that he was stepping away from NASCAR. At the time, Suarez was Gibbs’ hot commodity in the second-tier series, and he brought along with him solid sponsorship in Arris. It was a no-brainer decision to bump him up to Cup and fill the void by Carl Edwards’ departure.
Was Suarez Fed to the Wolves?
On paper, Daniel Suarez put together an overall average rookie campaign during his first season in NASCAR’s top series: he posted 12 top 10 finishes over the 36-race schedule, had an average finish of 16.2, and ended up 20th in points. Again, pretty average. But when you have Joe Gibbs Racing equipment and team members, those numbers are pretty lackluster.
Suarez hit the typical “sophomore slump” his second year, ending up with just nine top 10 finishes, an overall average finish of 18.5 (over two spots worse than his rookie year), and a points finish of 21st. Even worse (seemingly) for Suarez was the news that Martin Truex, Jr. would be making the move to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019, and with NASCAR’s limit of just four full-time cars per owner, one of the current drivers was going to be the odd man out. Obviously that was Suarez.
2019: A Year of Revival for Daniel Suarez
Just like in 2017, though, the timing seemed to be perfect for Suarez to lose his top tier Cup Seres ride, as Kurt Busch was reportedly on his way out at Stewart-Haas Racing despite having one of the most consistent seasons in the series and posting an average finish of 12.1, which was 5th-best behind the “Championship Four.”
And that could be exactly the spark that Daniel Suarez needs to get his racing career back on track.
It’s not like we haven’t seen something similarly play out before; Joey Logano–who was touted as “Sliced Bread” in the Xfinity Series, meaning the best thing since–struggled through four seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing before making the move to Penske Racing in 2013. Logano immediately posted the best average finish (at that point) in his first season at Penske, and after notching just two wins while with Gibbs, he’s since went to victory lane 18 times in six years at Penske, and also took home his first Cup Series championship a couple of months ago.
Essentially, Daniel Suarez is inheriting one of the top cars in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Kurt Busch was only able to get to victory lane once in 2018 with this Ford, but his consistency shouldn’t go unnoticed; in the Salary Cap Challenge Fantasy NASCAR game we offer here, Busch averaged 68.6 fantasy points per race last season, which was 5th-best in the series and within six points of both Martin Truex, Jr. (74.3 fantasy points per race) and Cup Series Champion, Joey Logano, who ended up with 71.8 fantasy points per race.
A change of scenery may be just what the doctor ordered for Daniel Suarez. Stewart-Haas Racing is an elite organization in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and they’ve shown that they can bring out the best in drivers that have struggled in other equipment. Just last year, Aric Almirola went from a mid-pack driver at Richard Petty Motorsports to nearly a Championship Four contender at Homestead in his first year at SHR.
Obviously it’s hard to sit here and say that Daniel Suarez is suddenly going to become a championship threat with this move, but at the same time, it wouldn’t be surprising. Baby steps, though: Suarez still needs to find victory lane in a Cup car for the first time. He should be able to check that off his list during the 2019 season.