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Daniel Suarez on first trip to NASCAR playoffs: "I belong here"

There are no nerves as Daniel Suarez embarks on his first journey into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. In fact, he has never felt more comfortable.

Daniel Suarez, TrackHouse Racing

Daniel Suarez, TrackHouse Racing

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Suarez, 30, is one of four drivers (Ross Chastain, Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric are the others) making their first appearance in the Cup Series playoffs.

And all four qualified for the 16-driver field by winning a race (Chastain won twice).

Participating in his first Playoff Media Day on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C., Suarez said he felt right at home.

“It feels nice, but honestly it feels normal. I believe that I belong here,” he said. “When you have a team like the one I have, I feel like it’s more like a must to be in this position.”

A long journey to get here

Suarez hasn’t always been able to say that in his Cup Series career.

He was among the first success stories to come out of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and won the 2016 Xfinity Series championship with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Just as Suarez was about to embark on a second season in Xfinity, Carl Edwards abruptly left NASCAR, leaving JGR with a Cup ride to fill for the 2017 season. The organization turned to Suarez to take over Edwards’ team.

Although there were plenty of flashes of potential, Suarez never seemed to find the same success in Cup, whether it was at JGR, Stewart-Haas Racing or Gaunt Brothers Racing.

That was until he joined Trackhouse Racing in 2021 – co-owned by Justin Marks and Grammy award-winning music artist Pitbull – and almost immediately knew he had found an organization in which he could thrive.

“The first time I heard about Trackhouse was on a piece of paper and that was exactly two years ago,” Suarez said. “When I signed with Trackhouse, they told me everything they wanted to do and they told me everything that they were going to allow me to build for myself – to be able to build a team that I wanted, to build a team that I was going to be able to win races and championships with.

“At the time I said that was going to be the best opportunity that I’ve had in Cup. A lot of people told me I was crazy. A year-an-a-half later, two years later; now they know what I saw back then.”

Trackhouse a title threat?

Since joining Trackhouse, Suarez has earned his first Cup Series victory – at Sonoma, Calif., in June – and he and new teammate Chastain have amassed three wins in the first 26 races.

Both drivers are enjoying career-best seasons, and while Trackhouse isn’t yet two years old, it clearly has shown a better grasp of the nuances of the Next Gen car than many of the larger, well-established teams this season.

“Justin looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Man, you have to trust me on this, we’re going to build something great and I want to be able to give you the opportunity to build a team around you’. That’s something nobody else has allowed me to do before in the Cup Series,” Suarez said.

“It makes a huge difference when you have a team for you, not a team that was already there. I’m just very happy to be in this position. I’m very happy to that I crossed paths with Trackhouse and I feel like we have a great future ahead of us.”

By no means, however, is Suarez satisfied with what he and his No. 99 team have already accomplished this season.

“I think the fun part is about to begin. The winning was a lot of fun. I proved to myself that I can do it. I knew I could do it, but now everybody knows as well,” he said. “They do know that I can do it and my team can do it, and we have everything that it takes to get it done.

“Now, we have to do it on a consistent basis. In the last two months, we’ve been extremely consistent. Richmond was the only race that we were bad. Everywhere else, we’ve had top-five and top-10 (finishes).”

With the 16-driver playoff field filled with 15 different winners, this season’s playoffs may well be more wide-open than ever. Naming clear favorites is a difficult proposition.

Suarez says that means no one should be counted out.

“There is not one guy... anyone can be good. I love that about this car,” he said. “It’s unpredictable. Everyone has an opportunity.

“I believed that Trackhouse and the Next-Gen car was going to be the perfect combination to change the game, and here we are right now. If it wasn’t for this project, we wouldn’t be here right now.”

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