Daniel Suarez still remains one of the most heralded drivers in NASCAR history. He also happens to be one of the more unfortunate ones as well. He lost his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing in favor of Martin Truex Jr., then lost his ride at Stewart-Haas Racing in favor of rookie Cole Custer.
Both moves were pure business and understandable moves at that, but they weren’t indicative of the talent that Suarez possesses. So when he tangled with Ryan Blaney in his Daytona 500 qualifying race, leading to the first Cup Series DNQ of his career in his first outing with Gaunt Brothers Racing, it was more heartbreaking to see than surprising.
The deal to race the No. 96 GBR Toyota was a last-minute deal and undoubtedly there were going to be some kinks to iron out. A DNQ was an understood possibility but considering Suarez’s resume, it was only logical to figure that he was going to find a way. But racing is unpredictable sometimes, and as his Toyota sat crumpled up in the Daytona tri-oval, everyone saw just how unpredictable it can be.
But all things considered, GBR is looking to attempt its first full season in its young history, and they’re looking to grow the team around Suarez’s talents. Leavine Family Racing went from a part-time team to contending for wins with Matt DiBenedetto in their No. 95; it stands to reason that GBR could build their team into a consistent contender with Suarez.
It also stands to reason that just because Suarez wasn’t cranking out the results his respective JGR/SHR teammates were doesn’t mean he’s untalented. In 2017 he was thrust into the No. 19 following Carl Edwards’s departure from the sport, and although he didn’t score a win he did score one top-five and 12 top-10s – stout numbers for a rookie.
In 2018, despite scoring a pole, three top-fives, and nine top-10s, he only DNF’d three times as opposed to six the year before. Also, 2018 was something of a down year for any JGR driver not named Kyle Busch; Erik Jones was the only other JGR driver to score a win. In 2019, Suarez’s first year with SHR, he scored a pole, four top-fives, and 11 top-10s, but Kevin Harvick was the only SHR driver to go to Victory Lane out of a four-car team.
Suarez’s lack of results isn’t from lack of effort, and that much is obvious to see. The GBR organization definitely sees this and wants to build their team around him. GBR has also proven to be a reliable team; in 38 starts this will be only their second DNQ. Otherwise, they’re consistently a top-15 to top-25 team with room to grow.
This season will be one of growing pains for Suarez and GBR. But in 2002, when Jimmy Spencer DNQ’d for the 500, he turned around and posted some solid results with two top-fives and six top-10s. In 2006, when Scott Riggs DNQ’d for the 500, he ended up with two poles, one top-five, and eight top-10s. In 2007, Brian Vickers DNQ’d 13 times, including the 500, and still posted one top-five, five top-10s, and ended up winning a race and making the Chase for the Cup two years later.
It’s easy to feel heartbroken for Suarez and admittedly, not every NASCAR champion succeeds in the uppermost levels of the sport. But it is too early to dismiss Suarez and GBR after just one DNQ. They’ll be looking to grow this season, and along with that, they’ll experience some growing pains. But they’re still a great combination to learn and grow together.