Opinion: Daniel Suarez embracing opportunity, grabbing spotlight at Stewart-Haas Racing

Daniel Suarez should have all of the pressure on him.

He embarked this season on a second (and possibly last) chance in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing. He drives a car co-sponsored by the team owner’s business. He replaced a driver who won six races and made the playoffs in each of his five seasons. 

If Suarez doesn’t perform well this year, it would appear he could find himself wondering what happened to his NASCAR career just a few years after winning the Xfinity Series title.

But the 27-year-old, the first full-time Mexican driver in the Cup Series, appears relaxed two months into the 2019 season with his new home at Stewart-Haas Racing. Even a scuffle with Front Row Motorsports driver Michael McDowell last month  after qualifying at ISM Raceway near Phoenix didn’t seem to faze him.

Daniel Suarez has three top-10 finishes in 2019, his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing. (Photo: Jasen Vinlove, USA TODAY Sports)

Suarez heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for Sunday's Food City 500 (2 p.m. ET, Fox) with back-to-back top-10 finishes as he seeks highlights beyond his epic line of “If you don’t give me respect, I’m going to kick your (butt)” that followed his scrap with McDowell. 

At the time, Suarez denied that the scrap was a sign of him feeling the pressure, just that he felt wronged by a McDowell move.

“I always put pressure on myself,” Suarez said. “But that was just I want to perform well and I knew … how important was going to be qualifying.”

To his car co-owner, Tony Stewart, what you see is what you get with Suarez and he shouldn’t feel the pressure.

“He’s already passed the audition,” Stewart said. “He’s got the job. I told him there’s no pressure. That’s the same thing I told Aric Almirola last year.

“You’ve already got the job, now settle in, work with your team and go race.”

Stewart sees plenty of similarities between Almirola and Suarez. Almirola spent six years at Richard Petty Motorsports before jumping over to SHR, where he made the playoffs, won at Talladega in October and finished fifth in the standings in 2018.

“Just like when we had Aric come on board last year … these guys want to win so bad,” Stewart said. “They’ve ran well but they haven’t got that win yet. They try so hard that they almost force themselves into mistakes.

“We’ve seen that a couple of times with Daniel, but I would still take a driver that does that than a driver that doesn’t try hard enough being too cautious.”

The difference: Suarez came from Joe Gibbs Racing, an organization at the top of its game that needed to make room for 2017 Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. and decided to jettison Suarez.

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