today is Jun 08, 2023

John Harrelson/Motorsport Images

Daniel Suarez is back to work at Nashville Superspeedway after having an extra week to celebrate his first NASCAR Cup Series win.

Suarez has kept a business-as-usual approach to things since leaving Sonoma Raceway with the trophy but does admit a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. But as far as racing with his No. 99 Trackhouse Racing team, it’s onto the next event. Suarez was 14th in practice Friday afternoon at Nashville and qualified fifth for the Ally 400.

A win, however, did a lot for Suarez. Despite being 17th in the championship standings, Suarez has a potential playoff berth in hand. And yet, being in the postseason for the first time in his career hasn’t crossed Suarez’s mind.

“Honestly, I haven’t thought about the playoffs yet,” Suarez. “We still have two and a half months before that. I feel like there are still a lot of things to be done before that. It feels good to know that we’re locked in. But as a race car driver, at least for me, we know that being locked in doesn’t mean a lot. For me, it means a lot when you have a lot of points in the bank — when you have more than a win, but also at least a few playoff points. That’s when you start becoming a strong contender in the Playoff races.

“That’s the goal. We still have two and a half months to work on that. Hopefully, we can get a couple more wins and some more playoff points. That would be nice.”

Darlington Raceway kicks off the postseason on Sept. 4. Suarez has never finished better than 17th in the championship standings but is guaranteed to do so by qualifying for the playoffs.

Suarez feels the Next Gen cars have changed the game. “You never know who’s going to be competitive.” Motorsport Images

Suarez was the 12th different winner of the season and there are still 10 races left in the regular season. There have never been 16 or more different winners before the playoffs started and Suarez isn’t concerned that could happen this year, which might require him to need more than a lone win to qualify for the postseason.

“I think that it’s very cool to see what is happening in the playoffs right now,” Suarez said. “I feel like a big reason for this is the Next Gen car. These Next Gen cars really came to the game to change everything. The way that we work, the way that we approach things. Everyone is out there playing with pretty much the same tools and we’re seeing those results on track. You never know who’s going to be competitive. It can be a Chevy; it can be anyone really. That’s fun and I really enjoy that. Maybe I’m a little biased because we’ve been strong lately, but it’s been a lot of fun.

“For me, I really try to focus on one week at a time. There is nothing I can do about Road America right now or the following race. I’m trying to put all my focus into Nashville. I take it one day at a time. I feel like we’re in a good spot. I believe that we can actually contend for more wins before the playoffs start, so hopefully, we can do that and put ourselves in a better position for the last few months of the season in the playoffs.”

Winning was a long time coming for Suarez, who has shown speed and had other opportunities before Sonoma. Finally making it happen might have opened the floodgates.

“Honestly, the people that know me, they would tell me that I’m very confident before or after the win,” Suarez said. “The reality is the biggest change for me is just that I feel relief. I feel more relaxed. I feel that now, I don’t have to answer that dumb question of, ‘When are you going to win?’ I feel like I got that one out of the way, but I do feel more relief.

“Confidence-wise, honestly, I feel just as confident right now as I did two months ago. I knew that I could win races. Now, the only difference is that everyone knows that other than just me. Hopefully, we can carry that over and get a few more.”

Champion Porsche