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2010577089

Daniel Suarez brings 2021 energy into 2024 NASCAR season

By Dustin Albino

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — On Daytona 500 media day last season, Trackhouse Racing announced a contract extension with Daniel Suarez through the 2024 season. There was no announcement on that day this year.

Suarez is confident in the changes of the No. 99 team made over the offseason, signing crew chief Matt Swiderski, who was one of multiple candidates for the gig, from Kaulig Racing to lead the team. The team, theoretically, swapped positions, as former crew chief Travis Mack was picked up by Kaulig.

Suarez expressed that there’s no immediate rush for 2025 and beyond.

“I think it’s too early for that,” Suarez said regarding a contract extension. “My focus is on winning races and making my team competitive. That’s all I care about. If I take care of my thing and you take care of yours, things are going to work out. I have to focus on that. I cannot have my mind on an extension, what is going to happen in two years or whatever with my next contract.

“My mind has to be in performance. My mind has to be with the sponsors. How are we going to be able to make this team a winning team? That’s what I’m thinking right now.”

Suarez alluded to having a car capable of winning in only two races last season. The No. 99 Chevrolet paced the field for a mere 48 laps across the 36-race schedule, the fewest Suarez has led in three seasons with Trackhouse. After winning the pole and finishing third at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, he tallied two top-10 finishes over the final 12 races of the season.

Change was needed on the No. 99 team. But Suarez is no stranger to overcoming hurdles. He was thrown into the Cup Series with Joe Gibbs Racing on little notice when Carl Edwards retired one month before the 2017 season began. Following a two-year stint with JGR, he was replaced by Martin Truex Jr. and was bounced after one year with Stewart-Haas Racing. He failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 in 2020 in what turned out to be a miserable season with Gaunt Brothers Racing.

Suarez now enters the 2024 season with a new mindset, similar to his energy for the 2021 season — his first at Trackhouse.

“This year, to me, feels similar to 2021,” he said. “The reason is because 2020 was a very difficult year for me personally, and then 2021, we started with Trackhouse and it was like a fresh start. A lot of energy, a lot of hype and excitement heading into the year. This year feels that way and the reason is last year, we had a few spikes of good runs. We had a pole position, had a few top fives, but it wasn’t the year we were hoping for. We worked very hard in the offseason to make our team better”

Aside from changing crew chiefs, Suarez admitted the No. 99 team looks similar to 2023. However, knowing the day-to-day confines, he believes it’s different and is confident that will translate to the race track.

“I like what I’m seeing and I think we’re going to be able to move in the right direction with everything we have done,” Suarez said.

In 2023, Suarez thought the team was a “good top-15 team.” But that’s not going to cut it.

Trackhouse has Zane Smith, whose contract is being leased to Spire Motorsports this season in the No. 71 car, and Shane van Gisbergen waiting in the wing. Suarez doesn’t believe those options add pressure to him.

“There is always pressure, but I don’t have any extra pressure because of them,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of and I know what we were lacking last year. I feel like as a group we made some adjustments to be better and we’re going to be fine. We have to be better.”

Being better starts with Daytona, as Suarez has nine DNFs in 13 starts at the World Center of Racing.