Q. How was it like driving into here to start the new year?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: It's good. Obviously very excited to start this new season with Trackhouse, with Travis Mack, my crew chief. I feel like honestly I have a great group of people in Trackhouse.
We only made a few adjustment, few improvements people-wise. 80% of my team is the same as last year. Very happy with that. I think that the few areas that we saw that we could have improve from last year to this year, we did. Now it's time to see exactly what we got on track.
Q. Going back to summer, you have six months, but does it sink in you're coming into this year as a Cup Series winner?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: Like you say, it's been a long time. It's time to do that again.
I think that it feels good. For me the best part is to be able to get that out of my back. It was on my back already for a few years.
It's not easy. It's not easy to win in the Cup Series just because the competition is tough. You are fighting with the best drivers, the best teams, the best pit crews. It's not easy.
But I have a great team behind me now, and I'm very, very happy to continue to do that and challenge for more wins this 2023 season.
Q. 'Off your back', does that mean this year is a bit more comfortable for you?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: I don't want to call it comfortable because 'comfortable' can be understand as maybe not pushing hard enough. It just out of my back. I can tell you that.
I think that this year it's not really different than after winning, but you just feel for sure that we belong here. We have a great team.
Like I said, last year I felt like we did a good job with our team, we had some good races, we had an opportunity to win a few races at least throughout the year. We had some issues here and there.
We worked hard in the off-season to look through all my year and say, Okay, this is what we did right, this is what we did wrong, this is the mistakes that we did, and these are the issues we have with the car. How can we make all these things better?
Based on those things we made a few adjustments and we believe we are a better team for the 2023 season.
Q. Would you say the race you will probably be most proud of is the one where the power steering went out and...
DANIEL SUÁREZ: I would agree with that. I think that that was probably, in my opinion, one of my highlights of the year, along obviously with the win.
But that race was tough, especially because as a team we did everything, actually... I don't think there is one person out there in this industry that will say that we didn't deserve to transfer to the next round just because we were actually sitting in the perfect position to do.
When that happen, everything went backwards. I mean, I started stage three in the Roval with my team telling me, Man, you just have to finish within the top 25.
On a road course, that's a piece of cake for us. After that 15 minutes, I was just fighting for my life. So it was tough.
But at the end of the day I left the track knowing 100% that I gave everything I got. Like, I didn't have energy left at the end of the race. That was most important for me. The result wasn't the result that we wanted, but I'm sure that the effort and everything that we put into that race was correct.
Q. Did that make up for the crushing disappointment, knowing you should have been in the Round of 8?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: It's not easy because there is so many people that work very, very hard to go to the Playoffs and advance to other rounds and have a shot to a championship. But it is what it is. We have to learn from those lessons and continue to get better.
There's no excuses. We could have done better. We could have done maybe something different at the shop to figure out those things. It wasn't the first time that happened to us. In COTA, same thing. We were leading the race, had an issue with the steering. We have to be better. That's the final thought.
I don't want to think, Oh, man, we had mechanical issues. No, we just have to do a better job, build a better luck for ourselves.
Q. Circumstances like that, does that show something to yourself as much as it does the effort to your team?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: It definitely does. That race, in my opinion, show my entire team that we are there to fight. Regardless of how difficult the road may be, we have to continue to fight and to give everything that we have.
But that's part of racing. That's why we love this sport so much, because it's not easy. It's not easy when you have the best car, and it's not easy when you have a car with issues. That's the difference between the good drivers and the great drivers, in my opinion, and great teams, as well.
We have to continue to do that. I'm sure this year you guys are going to see a better 99 team than you saw last year.
Q. How does the contract extension play into that on your side?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: That's a good question.
I don't know. We never talk about that specific race. But I'm sure it doesn't hurt. The team knows. Regardless of the result of one race or a couple races, the team knows how I work. I feel like I'm a very disciplined person in and out of the track. I'm always working to evolve. I'm always working to trying to get better. The team knows that.
I think we definitely have room for improvement from last year. I hope that we can show that on track, that we are a more complete team than last year.
Q. Do you have anything planned special for winning the Daytona 500? A taco piñata?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: It's going to be another taco piñata. We have a few already at the hauler. I think that has become now my signature. We're going to have... Piñatas are something that are very Hispanic, obviously tacos, as well (laughter). It's good.
I enjoy that. My fans love it. I feel like it's a great way to connect with my community. Yeah, we have a few tacos piñatas at the hauler.
Q. How do you feel the response has been to you as far as attracting your fellow Hispanics into the sport? Do you feel them rallying around you? For a long time it's more of an open-wheel kind of deal for them. Always a car culture. But how much do you think you have helped being at the Cup level?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: You know, it helps a lot. I've been doing this already for several years. I have noticed that every year, with a lot of work from myself, NASCAR, my sponsors, the racetracks, the Daniel's Amigos, every year we get better, every year we have a bigger community on the track.
But something I learned is that consistent work is paying off, is getting better. But success on track just bring it to a whole different level. At the end of the day you are going to be way more attached to something if you know that your guy and your person that is just like you - in my case obviously Hispanic - is being successful. In my opinion, winning races, being in the Playoffs, be contending almost every weekend, that played a huge role.
And in my opinion, 2022 has been the biggest step I have seen in my racing career in Cup when it comes to the Hispanic community. So it's amazing. I feel like we are in a huge momentum right now. Obviously 2023 we're expecting to be an even more successful season.
I think myself, NASCAR, Coca-Cola, all the people that helped me put these things together, we are definitely moving the needle.
Q. Both of the most successful drivers in the United States are from Monterrey: yourself and Pato O'Ward. What does that say about Monterrey?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: Yeah, I mean, it's very special. I think Mexico right now is living a very, very special moment. Never in the history of motorsports in Mexico we have had drivers being successful in the most important series in the world: Formula 1, INDYCAR, NASCAR. Having Mexican drivers in all these series and winning races in all three of these areas is quite special.
Mexico right now is in a very, very good place when it comes to the drivers we have around the world. I feel very, very proud to be a small part of it, along Pato and Checo. Both of them are very, very good friends of mine. I feel like we're enjoying this journey and we are putting our country in the loop when it comes to more and more fans to get attracted to more sports.
Q. Was it important for you to get the contract done before the season started to have that out of the way and have your future settled?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: Yeah, it was. That was actually a topic of conversation that I had with the team. I'm the kind of person that once I start racing, I like to focus on that.
Last year when we announced this 2023 extension that we did, we did it right before the Playoffs. I didn't even want to talk about it. I was just focusing my thing. I was just so focused my thing.
I feel like at times it can be a distraction. This time, when we started having all these conversations, I said Hey, let's get it out of the way before the Daytona 500.
It's a good day because we are announcing this and I am answering these questions, but I don't want to have to think about it during the weekend, not really heading into next week.
Q. Was it a really easy decision process?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: Yes, it is for me. I'm very, very happy where I am. Trackhouse, the future of Trackhouse, is very bright. I feel like I'm experienced enough now to understand those things and to understand how important people is.
Everybody at Trackhouse believe in me. I believe in Trackhouse since day one. We're building something great here. I think we have something special going on. It would be silly not to see that and to take advantage of that, to take it to the next level.
Q. What has been the biggest part of that evolution over the two years? Where have you noticed the biggest strides?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: Every year has been a process. I mean, we still babies, man. This is going to be our third year only as Trackhouse.
So the first year obviously Richard Childress Racing played a huge role. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be here. Huge thanks to Richard and to everyone at RCR, Chevrolet.
Then the second year obviously getting the whole team of Ganassi, that was a huge thing, Chevrolet jumping onboard with us.
Right now it's actually the first time that things are fairly calm. We were able to rebuild with less going on. So I feel very, very good about it. I feel we've been able to work and getting better instead of restructure the whole thing.
I feel like every year has been something new. This year I feel like is going to be a great opportunity for us to go out there and compete in the highest level.
Q. What is it like to have that continuity? There were many years where you didn't have a future late in the season, contract in limbo. What is it like to have that security now?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: That's a good question.
Last week when I signed the contract, I was with Justin. Justin say, Hey, Daniel, do you realize the second that you hit the track in L.A., you were officially the longest you ever been with a racing with Trackhouse?
I never even thought about that, talking about Cup. I never even thought about that.
He said, Hey, you were never with a team longer than the two-year mark.
In L.A. I pass that two-year mark, and Trackhouse has been my longest Cup team. If you look at it, that tell you how important it is, the consistency, to working with the people, to continue to build in the people.
I feel so fortunate that Trackhouse has given me that opportunity to be able to build a team around me and a team to continue to get better.
Q. Justin has such a positive energy around him, such vision. How big of a part does that play in you just wanting to perform for them? He's a pretty amazing dude.
DANIEL SUÁREZ: He is. I don't want to talk bad about anyone, but what I have experienced with Trackhouse and with Justin and with Ty Norris is way different, way different than everything I have experienced in the past. Culture-wise, people-wise, how they care about it, it's quite special.
I have never been part of something like this, not even close.
So I'm just very, very fortunate of where I am right now. I feel like we have amazing people, amazing partners, people that believe in us.
We're having fun. At the end of the day that's the most important thing, right? Enjoy this journey, have fun, go out there and compete and do what we love the most, which is compete and race for wins.
Q. The season before you went over to Trackhouse was a tough season. Do you race with a lower team or do you go to another series or sit out? How was the decision made to go do this as opposed to Xfinity, sit out, wait a while?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: That's a very, very good question.
Honestly, even right now today, 2023, three years later, I don't even know if I made the right decision. All I can tell you is that I have a lot of good friends at Toyota that at the time, they really believe in me and they wanted to put this project together with me for the future because at the time they only had one team. They wanted to have more than only one team.
They had all this project. It looked very, very good to me. At the end of 2019, it looked extremely good to me. Unfortunately everything started late, so we knew it was going to start not great, but we thought that this is going to head in the right direction. Then COVID hit. Everything changed with that. Everything changed. All the plans, all the things we had going on, pretty much they got on hold.
It was the right decision? I don't know. Probably not. It was the plan that they sold me. It was definitely not. I don't know.
But at the end of the day that year, 2020, is been the year that I have learned and grow the most myself. I didn't learn anything that year racing-wise. I didn't learn one thing on the racing track. Mentally of my person, that is the year I learned the most. I feel definitely I hit bottom definitely. I hit bottom.
I thought to myself, If this is the way things are going to go, I'm going to stop right now. This is not what I'm going to do.
But I hit bottom, and I was able to find Trackhouse later that year, and they believe in me, I believe in them, and we went for this journey. Here we are.
Everything happens for a reason. But I can tell you that I don't know if that was the right decision or not. But definitely that led me into where I am right now.
Q. What does 75 years of NASCAR mean to you, just having a place in that history now?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: Every year is special because every year you have new goals, new opportunities, new challenges. But the fact that I am racing NASCAR in the 75 anniversary of the sport is quite special.
This year I'm sure we are going to have some special trophies, special championships. This year's going to be different, and we know that.
I was talking to Jeff Gordon about this actually. He won the championship in year number 50 of the sport. He told me that it was extra special than any other year.
I'm going to fight with everything I got to have a shot to win this championship.
Q. Your role in that? You have a little slice in that history now because of what you've accomplished.
DANIEL SUÁREZ: Yeah. I feel very, very humble and obviously very proud to have a small piece in that history. I think honestly I feel like I'm just getting started. But I feel very, very humble and very proud to say I have contribute a little bit into this amazing sport.
Q. What does signing the extension mean to you? We all knew you were going to be there probably, but now that it's signed, what did that mean to you?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: It means a lot. It means a lot to be able to get it out and move on and focusing in racing, and also really to continue to build with Trackhouse because they have been my house already for the longest I ever been in Cup with someone.
To continue to build with them, to continue to get better, I feel like the future is very bright and I can't wait to see what we can do this year.
Q. Being it is the 75th anniversary, is it more motivation for you from a competitive standpoint to win on Sunday?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: There is always very high level of motivation. I won't tell you that it's higher motivation, but I will tell you it's extra special just because it is the 75 birthday of the sport.
I think that NASCAR's going to have some surprises throughout the year with different trophy designs and stuff like that. And I would love to get some of them.
Q. Next weekend is supposed to be the final race on the two-mile oval at Auto Club. Do you like that racetrack? Will you go there next week and care one way or another what's going to happen to it?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: Yeah, I love that racetrack. I love that racetrack. I love that place. The community there always makes me feel like home.
With that being said, I hope everything is to make things better, make the sport better. Another hope is that we come back soon because that's amazing place for me. Personally those fans, that community makes me feel like home. The Hispanic community there is huge.
Even though that I wish that the racetrack stay the same, I know that that won't happen. I'm going to enjoy it one more time and hopefully - hopefully - we come back very soon.
Q. No matter what happens to the racetrack, it's important to you that NASCAR stays in that market?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: Definitely, definitely. For me it's very important because the community there is unbelievable. There's so many great fans. I have enjoyed racing there a lot.
I think it will be very sad if we wouldn't come back. I don't think that's going to happen, though. But I think definitely there is going to be a main change. I just hope that transition happens quick and we can come back and don't miss anything else.
Q. How inspirational is Justin? Whenever I talk to him, I want to sign up with him. What is it about him that he has that inspirational magic?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: It's energy. Everyone here is built with energy. Justin has a very good energy. On top of that, he has great ideas and he thinks outside the box. He's always innovating.
He has a very, very good combo, a very good combination of things on his way to make companies and to make racing and to make things successful. I'm very, very proud to call him first of all a friend and second a guy that you can go with and ask for advice and continue to build.
But, yeah, he's that kind of guy that when you hang out with somebody that has such a good energy, you start learning so much, right? He is that kind of person. He's quite special.
Q. He's a big thinker. He thinks real big ideas.
DANIEL SUÁREZ: He does.
Q. How important is that for the sport as it moves forward?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: He does. And I think he has shown to the world that he's here to make the sport better. He is actually, in my opinion, changing the way that we have seen race teams in a while. And he's just getting started really.
The culture of the team is different. The image of the team is different. The branding of the team is different. So I just think that I'm a small part of something very, very amazing with Trackhouse.
Q. Speaking of that culture situation at Trackhouse, it seems like for the last 20 years, I keep hearing from teams it's not fun anymore. Justin seems like he's put the fun back into the sport. Is that accurate or...
DANIEL SUÁREZ: I mean, I can't really talk about other teams, but in Trackhouse is a lot of fun (laughter). I can tell you that we have a great time.
If there is teams out there that are not having a great time and they're not having fun, I advise them to go hang out with Justin because he has some great ideas and he's doing great things.
I don't think that we should be doing this every single week and not having fun. We're in a very, very privileged position to be doing what we love and to be racing and to be having a great time every single weekend.
I think that this sport's amazing. We just have to see it evolve. This sport is not the same than 10 years ago. I'm sure it's not even close to the same than 20 years ago. We just have to continue to evolve and continue to change and continue to move the needle in the sport.
I feel like Trackhouse, 23XI, all these teams are bringing new blood and new ideas to the team and it's helping.
Q. Did I see on Twitter there was a paint ball competition?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: Yeah, that was a good time. I got shot a lot (laughter). Yeah, I got shot a lot. I was quite aggressive with my strategy. I don't know if that work out. I shoot a lot of people, but I got shot a lot, too (laughter).
I don't want to say that I won, but I was aggressive. When everyone was hanging, I was, Let's go, shooting people left and right. It was a great time.
Q. What is your favorite Daytona 500 memory?
DANIEL SUÁREZ: Probably when Trevor Bayne won the race. When Trevor Bayne won the race, I actually just moved to Buffalo, New York, 2011. I don't know what the hell I was doing there. I was living there for a couple of months. After that I move to North Carolina.
I think that was my favorite moment just because I thought, you know what, I can do this, too. It was special for me.