Transcript: Daniel Suárez – Press Conference – 02.25.24

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winner, driver of the No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet. Daniel, this is your second career win in the Cup Series with a finish that was third closest in Cup Series history. Walk us through the last couple of laps and what you were feeling when you realized that your No. 99 Chevrolet crossed that finish line first.

DANIEL SUÁREZ: Yeah, it was definitely a special moment. Going back actually to the restart, I have to thank actually Kyle Busch because he did a very, very good job giving me some good pushes. To take the lead the first time when I was third, we threw the lead together, and after that when I picked the bottom in front of him, it worked out good.

But the 12 car, the Penske cars, they were strong. They were pretty strong, especially when they were close and being together. The outside line on the back straight away came extremely strong way sooner than I was anticipating. The 12 was able to push me but when he moved me a little bit he was able to get to my outside, and that’s exactly what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to give him my outside.

At that point I was racing second and I was trying to figure out how to get to him. I almost got to him, getting into the 3, but I got very, very loose, and I couldn’t actually get there.

When we crossed the white flag, I knew we were going to have a good shot because the 2 car was behind me and he was giving me very, very good pushes, and I drug the brake a little bit on corner 2, and I can see him coming with the push, and I said, okay, here he comes, and my move was going to come after that, and then he slowed down and I said dammit, he did not want to help me because his teammate was in the lead.

But at that point, the 23 pushed the 8, and the 8 was able to make the move and I was able to side draft the 8, and that’s when the three wide got started.

So it was a little crazy. Who knows what would have happened if the 2 was actually giving me the push. Who knows, maybe they were going to pass me back and get exit off 4. I’m just glad we’re here with my entire team, Trackhouse, Chevrolet, Freeway Insurance, Cesar over there of Freeway with his entire family. He’s been in Victory Lane already twice in one month, so he’s getting spoiled.

Yeah, just very happy. Very happy. Everyone at Trackhouse works extremely hard in the off-season, and to be able to start the 2024 season this strong, because last week in the Daytona 500 we finished 32nd or something like that, but we were running up front, and we wrecked running up front.

I feel like we have a strong team, and we’re showing that so far in the couple weeks that we’ve been racing.

We have to continue to build on that.

Q. Fairly or not, the perception going into the year was you were on the hot seat and need to perform. Did you feel like you were on the hot seat coming into this year and that you were at risk of losing your ride? Two, what does this do for your future at Trackhouse?

DANIEL SUÁREZ: Yeah, no, I never felt like I was in the hot seat. A lot of people was talking about it. Shane coming on board and then Zane coming on board. But I never felt bad.

I knew that last year wasn’t the year that I really wanted. I work — people that actually know me, they know how Hardy actually work, and last year we worked hard, but we were not efficient. We were missing something. We were not firing on all eight cylinders. In the off-season we went to work and we changed a little bit our system, the way we do things in a few areas, and I’ve been telling Ty, I’ve been telling Justin, saying, man, I can feel the team strong, I can feel the communication, the preparation, everything that we have, Squid, Matt Swiderski has done a hell of a job helping me to build a strong team, and I can feel it. I can feel it.

I’m happy that we were able to do it early in the season because some people actually told me earlier, hey, now you can relax, you’re in the playoffs. Hell no. My goal is not to win one race. I want to head into the playoffs with at least a handful — with a few wins to be able to contend for a championship.

This is not relaxing here. This is only the beginning. We have to continue to work, continue to build.

We know that there is a few things that we could have done a little bit better today. We’ll learn from that, and we’ll continue to build.

I’m happy that we are secure in the playoffs, but to be able to win the championship, you won’t do it winning one or two races. You have to win at least a handful of races to create points, and that’s the goal for the 99.

The goal for me with the 99 is for you guys not to be surprised when the 99 is in Victory Lane.

Q. Can you go through a race like that every week, or is that too intense?

DANIEL SUÁREZ: I love it. I love it. I love competition. I love racing. I woke up every morning with — so grateful and so fortunate to be in this position, that I get to do what I love to do. I get to compete with the best of the best every single weekend. Not just that, but I get to do it with an amazing team at Trackhouse and great people that support me and believe in me.

Freeway Insurance, they’ve been with me already for several years, Coca-Cola, Tootsie’s, so many people. So many people have been with me for a while, Quaker State doing a lot of things, supporting me racing in the NASCAR México series.

I’m very fortunate to have great people around me, and honestly, I love competing. I love this pressure. I love going out there knowing that we have to perform. I use that as fuel.

Q. What does a win — what will this win do you feel do for your future because it’s just your second Cup win and your first on an oval and first in 58 starts.

DANIEL SUÁREZ: Yeah, to me, it’s everything about building a good group around me. I truly believe that the last few years with Trackhouse, we have had a great group of people working together. We were able to win a year and a half ago, and it was amazing.

But like I said, the goal for me personally has never been to win a race a year, to win two races a year. The goal is bigger than that. I knew that to be able to get that, we needed to do something.

I feel that right now we are slowly making steps in the direction of where I want to be, where I want to go with this race team, that I want to accomplish to be able to win several races a year, to be able to be strong in the playoffs, not just to make the playoffs but to be strong in the playoffs and to be able to have a real shot for the championship.

Every single driver today will tell you they want to go and win the championship, but you really have to work and organize your people, your team to be real, a real contender.

Q. Watching that finish, it made me think of a question that was once posed by a wise man and philosopher, I think his name was Mike Joy, and I’ll pose that question to you now. Have you ever been a part of a finish like that?

DANIEL SUÁREZ: No, definitely not. Definitely not. At that point I was just trying to time the side draft on the 8. I didn’t know where the 12 was. I couldn’t see the 12.

I knew, I thought that I had the 8. I knew it was close. But I had no idea about the 12. No idea.

At that point, I was just hoping I saw the tower and I thought I was first, and they told me we got it, but then we were under review, and I said, dammit.

Every time that you get to win races, it’s special, but to be able to win it in this fashion, this close with two other great drivers is quite special.

Q. I know your first Xfinity win was pretty dramatic, too, last-lap pass at Michigan. Before this, what sticks out as the craziest finish that you were ever a part of in a race that you won?

DANIEL SUÁREZ: I would say either Michigan or my championship race in Homestead when I won the championship. I had a very fast car. We won the pole, led the most laps, but I had to win it in a restart. I had to restart. I think I restarted fifth, and I had to pass a couple cars to be able to win the race and the championship with two or three laps to go.

So to me, that’s obviously up there, as well, as just a crazy finish. Not the actual last lap but what I had to do to be able to put myself in that position at the very end.

Q. Your career has had a lot of twists and turns, and you talked about the people behind you. What does it mean to have just those people behind you who are committed to you?

DANIEL SUÁREZ: It’s very special, man. It’s very special, especially because for a young kid coming from México without speaking English, without friends, without understanding the culture, a lot of people don’t really understand. You really have to come from a different place to understand what I had to go through to be able to get here.

I had to actually learn English by myself. I had to do a lot of things different. To be able to make it slowly, to build relationships, to have people help me, it was a journey. It wasn’t easy.

Today I’m sitting here, and I really am very, very lucky to be in this position, being the only guy in the Cup Series that can actually do an interview in Spanish is quite special to me, but the journey to get here, it has been difficult, and it’s been a long one. That’s why I always tell people coming from México and Latin America, they ask me for advice, and I say, hey, man, you have to grind. It won’t be easy, not only because you are going to fight against great drivers, but also because you have to fight the language, you have to fight the culture, you have to fight the connections.

My mom, my dad, the people that advised me every single day, they’re not here, and I was very lucky that Gustavo Arenas back there, my American grandpa, he was here with me since I moved here and he took me under his wing, but if it wasn’t for him, probably I wouldn’t be here today.

So I got lucky in many different scenarios, and it’s a journey, and to build your team and to understand what you have to do — when I won the championship, I thought, man, this thing is easy. I got this. I’m going to go to the Cup Series and I’m going to kill this. Well, yes, but in the Cup Series you are racing with the best drivers, with the best pit crew, with the best mechanics, with the best crew chiefs, engineers, so it’s not just, oh, talented driver. No, in the Cup Series every single driver is talented. Every single driver is gifted.

So you have to build a good team around you, and I’ve been very fortunate that Trackhouse believed in me since day one and they have supported me to build a team around me.

Q. Monitoring Ross’s radio and a couple other teams, I was surprised to hear the comment that this raced more like the old 550 package instead of a superspeedway. What was your perspective on that?

DANIEL SUÁREZ: Could be. I mean, yeah, a little bit. I can’t really remember everything about the 550 package, but yeah, it had a little bit of a feel like this.

I think that the new rules that we have in the G of the car for superspeedways and here in Atlanta actually help the race. I feel like we can get pushed a little better and we can be a little more aggressive.

But yeah, it felt a little bit like that, but with that being said, the intensity of the pack, when we were in the top 10, top 15, running — the car moves a lot. The car moves a lot. You don’t have to be getting pushed to get a lot, a lot of movement on the car. Handling is extremely important.

I would say that even more important than on a superspeedway like Daytona and Talladega.

As far as I remember with the 550 package, we had a little bit more grip than this. This race is definitely very unique. I think that everyone at NASCAR, they have done a great job putting a race like this one because it’s different. It’s not a superspeedway, it’s not a mile-and-a-half, it’s not a 550 package. It’s a real hybrid, and it really puts a great show on track.

Q. I was struck by the number of people that just came to congratulate you in Victory Lane or even after the race talking to us in the media, everyone, even the guys that you beat, were all very complimentary and super stoked for you. What does it mean to you that pretty much everyone in the garage roots for you?

DANIEL SUÁREZ: It means a lot. It means a lot because most of those guys, they know how difficult it is to get here, how difficult it is to get to the Cup Series. We’re fighting with the best of the best.

Obviously they also know and recognize that I have had a little different journey than most drivers. I have a great relationship with Bubba Wallace, with Ryan Blaney and everyone, everyone that I was racing against, and they came to Victory Lane.

All we have is a mutual respect. We know how good we are, and we love racing each other. We love racing hard. We also respect each other outside the racetrack.

Yeah, it’s quite special. It goes both ways. The respect is mutual.

Q. Your spotter Frankie Kimmel, how valuable is he not only to a race like this but in general working with him the last couple years?

DANIEL SUÁREZ: He’s very important. Frankie is one of the best spotters out there. There is a lot of good talented spotters up on the roof, and I can tell you that he’s in the top 5. He’s a very, very good talented young spotter. I remember like it was yesterday a couple years ago we gave him a shot. We went to Dover. It was his first race ever, I think, in the national series, and we finished in the top 10, and right away I knew that he was talented. Yeah, we needed a few tweaks here and there, but he was talented. He’s a natural, and he’s a race car driver. He loves this. He understands what we need to do.

Him and I, we connect very well. I feel like especially in the last year or so, I feel like our communication and our trust has got to the next level.

That was one reason he said go to the top, we messed up, we lost 10 positions. Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad. But at the end of the day, we are not going to point fingers; we are in this together, and we win together and we lose together. In that particular moment he told me to go up. He thought it was the best thing. It wasn’t. But that’s part of it.

The same way that he helped me get to Victory Lane tonight. It’s part of it.

Q. At some point during the race today, Todd Gilliland said on his radio, it’s like going to a haunted house; it’s fun but I’m scared for my life at the same time —

DANIEL SUÁREZ: It is, it is.

Q. Is that an accurate way to describe the racing out there today?

DANIEL SUÁREZ: It was, man, because you knew was going to happen something. I cannot explain to you guys. I hope that everyone at home and you guys were actually able to see how much movement our cars had. We were not comfortable — I don’t think there were many cars going wide open besides the front row cars. Everyone was driving the cars. It was not easy, not easy at all. This racetrack is fairly new, and it already has some bumps, so it wasn’t easy. But it was great racing. It was great racing.

I thought in the beginning of my race, we got wrecked in lap 2. Luckily the car didn’t have a lot of damage. We fixed the car, and the car wasn’t great. The front of the car wasn’t great. The back of the car — we have to work on it.

That’s where I give a lot of credit to Squid, my crew chief, and my engineers Dustin and Troy that they never gave up. They knew that the car wasn’t 100 percent. They had a little bit of repairs, but they adjusted on it, and they made the car one of the best out there when it counted the most.

Q. Justin was here earlier talking about the culture that’s been built at Trackhouse, and he mentioned hard work and passion being two of the main things. Your crew chief Matt said — talked so much about the work that you put in compared to some of the other drivers that he’s worked with. What is it about the culture that Justin and Ty and everybody at Trackhouse has built that has made this really the best home that I feel like you’ve had in the Cup Series?

DANIEL SUÁREZ: You are totally right. This is the best home I have had in the Cup Series, and by a mile.

Justin Marks, Ty Norris, they believed in me since day one. When they called me to join Trackhouse, I was in the bottom. I was in the lowest of lows of my career. I was throwing a lot. I was losing confidence in myself. They grabbed me and they pulled me back to where I knew at one point that I belonged.

They knew that if they were able to give me a shot to build a team around me, I was going to do something good, and that’s something that I will be forever grateful to them, to give me the opportunity to build a team around me.

Like I said, when you are fighting with the best of the best, you have to have all the little things right.

Yeah, you know, Matt, he’s a very, very passionate guy, Squid, my crew chief. He likes to win, likes to be competitive. Super smart guy, one of the smartest persons I know. And we work hard.

At the end of the day, we come here on the weekends to execute. But the reason why we won today is not just because we executed right. It’s for all the preparation that we do during the week. We did a lot of work — we do a lot of work, Matt, Squid, my crew chief, Frankie, George Weiss, optimization. We do a lot of work to come here prepared. When you are prepared, already mentally you feel like you are ahead. That’s something that is very important. We’ve been working very hard to be prepared.

I honestly feel that when I was arriving here in Atlanta, I felt like I was the most prepared driver out there. If we can do that every week, it’s going to be a lot of fun, and we’re going to win a lot of races.

Q. The smile is back on your face. I know it was after Sonoma you guys made the playoffs in ’22. Last year wasn’t what you wanted. That’s been spoken of a good bit. You mentioned the confidence, though, that they brought to you. Was there ever a point last year even as you’re fighting through a year that wasn’t what you wanted it to be, was there a point that your confidence was shaken again, or did you always feel like getting back here was reasonable, was there, it was just kind of circumstances conspiring against you?

DANIEL SUÁREZ: You know, we race every single weekend, and when the results don’t come, yeah, your confidence starts lacking a little bit. The people that know me, they will tell you how confident I am. It’s very difficult for me to actually lose trust in myself and to actually lose everything that I know.

But it is a little bit. It is a little bit. When you don’t win races for a year, year and a half, you’re still losing a little bit of confidence. Okay, what do I have to do. I know I can drive. What do I have to do? What else do I need to do? You have to keep grinding, believe in your team, believe in yourself, continue to work on that communication, continue to work on the little things.

I came into this year, and I had a conversation with Ty Norris. I had a conversation with Justin Marks, with Cesar Soriano, as well, and I told them we are going to win races this year. I can feel it. We’re not even racing yet. I can already feel it, the way that we’re working, the way we’re preparing ourselves, it’s okay. This is the work that we have to do to be able to go out there and be efficient and fight for wins and championships.

If we can do it early, that would be amazing. What a better way to do it than the second race of the season.

Q. On your journey here coming from México, if you can remember, what was the hardest part or how close did you come to giving up, and what kept you going?

DANIEL SUÁREZ: There were so many different situations. Like when I came here in 2011, I didn’t have anything. I couldn’t speak English. I didn’t have friends. I didn’t have my family. I didn’t have sponsors supporting me to say, okay, go out there and buy yourself a ride. I didn’t have anything.

I would say that by far, the most difficult years of my life and my career were 2011 and ’12. Those years were very difficult because I was away from home. I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have money to actually rent an apartment at the beginning. It was difficult times.

But at the end of the day, all these difficult times is what makes you — it’s what makes me who I am today. A hard work person, a person that doesn’t give up, a person that is always grinding, a person that is always trying to get better. I’m a very perfectionist person. Like tonight, yeah, I’m very, very happy. We won. We did everything that we needed to do. Tomorrow I guarantee I’m going to watch the race and I’m going to write down a few things I could have done better because I know for next time we come here, if I do the same thing, probably I won’t win the race. So I have to be better. And everyone else is going to do the same thing. So that’s the mentality that you have to have. You have to always continue to evolve.

I felt that my team is doing the same thing. We’re on the same page. I’m hungry. I want to win races. I want to fight for championships. I feel like my team and I, Trackhouse, and my sponsors, we are all on the same page.

Q. You guys came close to winning here last July with the weather and everything else. How much of a redemption is winning a close one here tonight?

DANIEL SUÁREZ: Yeah, it feels good. It feels good. Last time here we finished second, and I don’t know if you guys know this, but second sucks. Second is not fun. It’s not fun to know that — actually sometimes third is better because at least you know that there were a couple guys ahead of you.

But when you finish second and the guy that finishes first is celebrating, it’s difficult because you know you were only one spot away.

But we learned from that. We grew from that. Like I said, we have had fast race cars. I feel like last year we had an opportunity to win a few races, but I have mentioned this in the past; the strong teams, they win five, six races a year, but they had opportunities to win 15 races a year.

If I had three opportunities to win races, everything has to fall in part. The execution part has to go perfect to get it done.

So really you have to — if you want to win five races, you have to be in contention 15 times at least to be able to everything fall into place. That’s what I told Matt Swiderski, Squid, the very first time we met. I said, man, I need more opportunities out there. Like if I have the fastest car once a month, we’re going to win races. We’re going to win races. But we have to do it as consistent as possible and make our team a habit to be strong and to be up front.

When we do that, when we put the grind and the work, I think we’re going to be able to hold ourselves to a high standard.

Q. Ross was so happy for you in Victory Lane, and he was talking about how much you push him to be better. He says you outwork him in the gym. You never gave up last year when times got tough and that the two of you just end up — it’s like a friendly competition where you just push each other to be better. What does that mean to have somebody that you can rely on, same age, same work ethic, and just push you to be the best?

DANIEL SUÁREZ: You know, if you just actually think about it, Ross and I, we are very different. We are very different as people. We are very different, but we have a lot of similarities, and the biggest similarities that I have found are a few.

One is that nothing was given to him. He had to work hard, as well, just like I did. Different paths, different journeys, but we both had to work hard.

From every single team that I have had in the past before Trackhouse, I was outworking every single teammate I had. I knew I was working harder. I knew I wanted things to happen.

Ross, honestly, he works hard. Him and I, we hold ourselves to a high standard, not just training but in the studies that we do, in the preparation that we do. That’s great because I know how good he is. He knows what I can do, as well, and we continue to push each other to a higher level.

But the little things, like just training, just like having conversations, just like in the simulator, we continue to push ourselves to be better. I really appreciate a lot of him being in Victory Lane, being happy for me. I was extremely happy for him, as well, the last race of last season when we won the race.

Winning the race in the fashion that he did, he dominated that race. It’s quite special.

I think Ross and I, we actually, like I said, we are very different, but when it comes to competition and the journey that we have had, it’s quite similar, and I feel like we complement extremely well and we push each other to always be better.

That also happens on the team side. His engineers, his crew chief, they do a great job, and I feel like in the past they have always pushed the 99 to keep evolving, and I feel like right now, we are at the point where we’re going to continue to push each other, not just on the driver side but also on the team side.

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