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    Friday, May 24, 2024

    Suarez takes aim on NASCAR Cup Series championship run following important win in Atlanta

    Daniel Suarez reacts after winning the NASCAR auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Hampton, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

    Hampton, Ga. — Daniel Suarez knows he will return to Atlanta Motor Speedway as a playoff contender on Sept. 8.

    Suarez also can count on retaining his spot on Trackhouse Racing's team when the NASCAR Cup Series makes its 2025 stops in Atlanta. The popular driver from Monterrey, Mexico, ended speculation about his future with the team by winning Sunday's Cup race in a memorable three-wide finish.

    It was only the second career win in 253 Cup races for Suarez and the first since June 2022 at Sonoma. A winless 2023 raised speculation about the future for Suarez entering his 2024 contract year with Trackhouse Racing. Co-owner Justin Marks insisted Sunday he never saw this season as an audition for the driver.

    “On the hot seat? He just didn’t have the year that he wanted last year,” Marks said. “But we know that he can get it done, and he’s a guy that can get it done. I don’t envision necessarily a situation where Daniel is not a driver for Trackhouse Racing.”

    Suarez scoffed at suggestions he should be relieved to know he secured his spot in the playoff field in only the second race of the season or that he may no longer have to worry about his future with Trackhouse.

    Instead, Suarez emphasized the goal of winning more than one race and competing for a championship. Atlanta will host the opening race of the playoff schedule.

    Bolstered by the addition of new crew chief Max Swiderski, Suarez says it's time to win more races and forget about contract talk that continued after he signed a one-year extension in 2023.

    “I never felt like I was in the hot seat,” Suarez said. “A lot of people were talking about it. ... I knew that last year wasn’t the year that I really wanted. ... We worked hard, but we were not efficient. We were missing something. We were not firing on all eight cylinders.”

    Suarez said even before Sunday's win he could sense a change in the team's direction. He finished only 34th in the season-opening Daytona 500 but led two laps.

    Suarez finished strong in his Chevrolet to narrowly beat Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch in the closest finish in Atlanta history and the third-closest finish in any Cup Series race with electronic scoring since 1993.

    Suarez said he has been saying “I can feel the team strong, I can feel the communication, the preparation, everything that we have.” He said Swiderski “has done a hell of a job helping me to build a strong team, and I can feel it. I can feel it.”

    Swiderski's skills were put to the test when Suarez was part of a massive pileup of at least 16 cars at the start of the second lap. Swiderski said “the tape started flying” as short-term fixes were made to the hood of the Chevrolet on pit row.

    “We had to get some more pictures of it and come up with another plan and had to work on it again,” Swiderski said, referring to the end of the stage. “Everybody kept their heads in it and stayed calm. We were able to get the car back to where we felt we were pretty decent and could be competitive."

    The “pretty decent” version of the No. 99 was good enough on a day all but a handful of cars were impacted by at least one wreck. Now comes next Sunday's race at Las Vegas, where Suarez will have his opportunity to prove he can compete for a championship this season.

    “The goal for me personally has never been to win a race a year, to win two races a year,” Suarez said. "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.”

    Daniel Suarez celebrates after winning the NASCAR auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Hampton, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
    Daniel Suarez (99), left, edges out Kyle Busch (8), center, and Ryan Blaney (12) at the finish line to win during the NASCAR auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Hampton, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
    Daniel Suarez (99), and Joey Logano (22) crash during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
    Ryan Blaney (12) beats Austin Cindric (2), and Daniel Suarez (99) to the line to win the second stage during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

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