Suarez’s five-year plan heads for new heights – Nascar

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Where do you see yourself in five years?

If Daniel Suarez were asked that question in 2012, he admits the answer would not have included sitting in the No. 19 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car for Joe Gibbs Racing.

But that’s exactly where Suarez will be when teams take the track at Daytona International Speedway to prepare for the Daytona 500 — in a seat once occupied by Carl Edwards, on a team already considered a powerhouse.

To say Suarez has come very far, very fast would be an understatement. And in the whirlwind of activity since Edwards’ surprising exit from JGR, nobody could blame Suarez if he were feeling overwhelmed by all the changes.

However, the 26-year-old Drive for Diversity product looked comfortable sitting in a director’s chair in front of the TV cameras answering questions at the recent Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“In the national series, Truck, XFINITY, Cup, there is always pressure,” Suarez said. “I guess we just get used to that pressure. For me right now, it’s normal.”

Suarez might be feeling an extra boost of confidence because of his 2016 XFINITY Series championship and after becoming the first Latin American driver to win a NASCAR national series title.

When we last saw Suarez in a race, he was celebrating in Victory Lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway, showering his team with Coca-Cola, smiling wide and pumping his fists in the air.

WATCH: Suarez wins at Homestead, celebrates championship

However, the path to that championship wasn’t always clear. When Suarez first came to live in the United States, he didn’t speak English and sponsorship for his car was hard to obtain.

Still, in 2012 he managed to finish in the top 10 in four of 10 races in the K&N Pro Series. This was in addition to 14 races in the NASCAR Mexico Series, where he ranked third in the final standings.

Suarez would get his first win on American soil in 2013 in the K&N Pro Series East event at Columbus, but it wasn’t until 2015 that he’d get a full-time ride — with Joe Gibbs Racing in the XFINITY Series. Suarez also drove in 13 events for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series that year.

Fast-forward two seasons and Suarez was enjoying the scene described above in Victory Lane.

PHOTOS: Best images from Daniel’s 2016 season

“It is happening fast for sure, there’s no question about it,” Suarez said. “In 2012, when I moved to the United States, I didn’t speak English. I was trying to find a sponsor for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. It was a very tough year. …

“But I guess being with the right people, being with the right team has helped me a lot, allowed me to move up the ladder faster.”

One person in particular, Kyle Busch, has had an enormous effect on Suarez. The young driver said there were many days when he’d “blow up” Busch’s phone asking for advice.

A little pestering has gone a long way, though, and it was with a touch of irony that Suarez had to pass Busch (with two laps to go) to get his first XFINITY win in June at Michigan. For one day, at least, it probably hurt Busch a little less to lose a close one.

Now the two are teammates on the highest of levels in racing, and to hear Suarez tell it, he hopes he and Busch can still share notes. But his voice rises in pitch when he says “maybe” that will be the case this year.

However, Suarez seems undeterred by that fact. He doesn’t anticipate Busch blocking his calls.

“I’m the same person. I’m the same Daniel Suarez as a couple years ago,” Suarez said. “I’m not shy to go out there and ask questions to a veteran driver. Hopefully, I can get the right answers to be a better person and a better driver. Kyle has been the most helpful, but the entire Joe Gibbs Racing family has helped me.”

RELATED: Edwards helps guide Suarez at Phoenix test

Suarez is just 10 weeks removed from winning a national series championship, but he says the celebration is about to end. It’s time to move on to the next chapter in his professional career, starting with the Daytona 500. He wants his head to be clear.

Where will Daniel Suarez be five years from now? Let’s find out.


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