Homestead, Fla.—Daniel Suarez was confident he’d contend in the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford in 2020, but plans change.
Late Wednesday, Suarez found out SHR was going in a different direction. As with Kurt Busch’s dilemma last season with Monster Energy, the funds didn’t arrive in time to lock Suarez into the seat for next year.
After one season with SHR, the 27-year-old Monterrey, Mexican is back on the market.
“I am a little disappointed,” Suarez said. “A lot of people have worked very hard on this team to try to put everything together and unfortunately it wasn’t enough. We needed a few months. We had to find a big amount of money to keep the ride for next year. My group of people, friends and a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing went to work and we actually did a pretty good job. We pretty much got the goal but unfortunately part of the money wasn’t on the table at this point. It was going to come a few months later and it wasn’t enough.
“It was a little unfortunate. It was a surprise. I was as shocked as you guys are probably right now, just a couple of nights ago. It is what it is. One door closes, another door opens.”
Suarez was the only driver in the SHR stable that didn’t qualify for the Playoffs. In Suarez’s defense, neither did veteran Clint Bowyer in his first year with the organization. Although Suarez poured his heart and soul into the race team—and posted similar results to teammate Aric Almirola—certainly his recent focus was on securing his ride for next year.
“Maybe a lot of people don't believe this, but this wasn’t a problem of results,” Suarez said. “This wasn’t because we didn’t perform. Kevin Harvick is an amazing driver with an amazing team and has been doing an amazing job, and that is why he is here today, fighting for a championship. But if you think about it, we have been racing along with the other two cars very even the whole year, even though we were a new team.
“We have had issues with the pit crew and changed the pit crew around several times this year to improve. That's the sad part for myself, that I have spent a lot of time working with my team to make my team better and changed the pit crew many times and moved people around and the spotter and a couple other things. I felt like we finally got everything clicking better the last month, month-and-a-half to be stronger.
“Now everything is coming apart. Honestly, I feel like that has been my Cup career so far. I have been in the Cup Series for two years, but I haven’t had six months of consistency in my Cup career. I am sure I will catch a break at one point.”
Suarez was thrust into the Cup Series at Joe Gibbs Racing following Carl Edwards abrupt departure at the end of the 2016 season. Sure, Suarez had just won the Xfinity Series championship, but he still wasn’t prepared for the gigantic step up to Cup. Even under the direction of veteran crew chief Dave Rogers, the rookie struggled to get up to speed. Despite a reunion with his Xfinity Series crew chief Scott Graves, Suarez’ sophomore season didn’t result in sizable gains.
Suarez had hoped for a fresh start with SHR after he was replaced by Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 19 JGR Toyota. He won the pole at Kentucky Speedway and scored a couple of podium finishes at Texas Motor Speedway. His four top-five finishes and 166 laps led in 2019 are personal bests.
“We still want to try to figure out how to help Daniel,” said SHR team co-owner Tony Stewart on Friday. “I think he deserves to be in the Cup Series. It's just a matter of how do we fit it all in, and when you've got a feeder series and you've got your own program to work young drivers up through there, sometimes you get in scenarios like this where you've got more drivers than you have cars.
“So it's a tough spot to be in for us as management, but like I said, we're going to try to work with Daniel and see if we can find a solution to keep him in our system and hopefully get him back in a car one day.”
Suarez is encouraged by the outpouring of support he’s received from Ford Performance and team principals at SHR—including Stewart. Edsel Ford II said of Suarez on Friday, “Frankly, I like Daniel. I think he’s a good driver. Hopefully, we can find him a home inside of Ford.”
Suarez met with Ford Racing boss Mark Rushbrook and Stewart prior to his media availability at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“Tony is a great guy,” Suarez said. “In the last six months I have learned that he is a very good friend. In the last week I have been talking to him a lot. He was talking to a lot of people and he was pushing very hard for me. Unfortunately the 41 team, and especially the 41, he doesn't have a lot that he can do with that car because the 41 is not his car. He pushed. I am sure that he pushed as hard as he could, like a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing did.
“He is trying to help me stay in the family. I don't know what I am going to do yet. There are a lot of things going through my head right now and I don't know. I don't even know if I want to be here. That is the way it is. I have to get back on my feet and find the best option for myself.”
Richard Childress Racing is one organization that has expressed interest in Suarez. Front Row Motorsports also has a seat to fill with David Ragan retiring at season’s end.
“We’ll talk to anybody,” said Front Row Motorsports GM Jerry Freeze. “(Suarez) hadn’t really been on our radar, because we weren’t expecting him to become available. All the indications we were hearing was that it sounded like it was going to work out where he was at.
“But he has a lot of talent. He won a championship in the Xfinity Series. Won some races. He really has done a good job. Had a top-five a couple of weeks ago. He can do it. Absolutely, he would be one that we’ve got to see as might be an opportunity if he was interested in Front Row.”