Daniel Suarez sees "big gains" in his first NASCAR Cup test

Daniel Suarez believes this week’s two-day test at Phoenix International Raceway was a vital step in his move to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season.

Daniel Suarez sees "big gains" in his first NASCAR Cup test
Daniel Suarez, Joe Gibbs Racing
Daniel Suarez, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Daniel Suarez, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Car of Daniel Suarez, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Carl Edwards

“This was amazing to have this test. I couldn’t imagine myself getting to Daytona for my first time in a Cup car. It’s just a huge deal,” Suarez said Wednesday following a busy afternoon in which he ran a 152 laps in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 Toyota.

Fellow rookie Erik Jones completed the most laps in the session (166). Kyle Larson posted the fastest average speed in the final session (134.998 mph).

“It’s a huge opportunity to get to run some laps and get to test and get to know the Cup car and to know the team and everything,” Suarez, 25, said. “I can say I was one of the most beneficial drivers out there.”

Originally, Matt Kenseth and his No. 20 team were scheduled as JGR’s representative for this test but after Carl Edwards’ abrupt departure from the series last month, Suarez was elevated to his ride and he and the No. 19 team were sent to the test.

“I really feel like my last laps of today versus my first laps of yesterday, there was just a huge difference. I felt more comfortable with the car and with the guys (on my team). I think it was huge for us,” he said.

“The team did an amazing job. We tried a lot of stuff. Most importantly before getting to Daytona, we started to learn how to communicate. I think we made some big gains over these two days.”

Last season, Suarez became the first Mexican driver to win in NASCAR’s three national series, with his Xfinity Series win at Michigan in June. In November, he became NASCAR’s first foreign-born national series champion, when he claimed the Xfinity championship.

Adjusting from Xfinity to Cup car

Suarez said he found a couple of big differences between the Cup car with its new 2017 rules package and the Xfinity car he used last season.

“The power is different, for sure, and the grip that you have from the car – I had a lot more balance in the Xfinity car last year,” he said. “The middle-corner speed with this car versus the other car is way different.

“There is a lot less downforce. NASCAR wanted to make this car more difficult to drive and they got it right.”

Edwards was on hand Tuesday to assist Suarez’s transition at the request of his crew chief, Dave Rodgers. Edwards spoke at length to Suarez on a myriad of topics from how to approach running on the track to whether he should buy a motorhome for the race weekends.

“He did a great job helping me and the team on how to communicate. Carl’s a great driver but at Phoenix, he’s one of the best,” Suarez said. “For me to have him here, it was pretty important to me, for sure.”

Suarez said the time he spent working with Rodgers in a race setting should help greatly when they arrive in Daytona later this month.

“He’s a great crew chief. He knows we have to test the right things. We aren’t here to be the fastest car here,” Suarez said. “He had a goal for this test and he achieved his goals. I like that and I feel we can do great things together.”

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