DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There was a time not so long ago that Daniel Suarez was considered one of the rising stars of NASCAR.
The driver from Mexico was set with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017 and NASCAR was hoping he would open eyes to a diverse group of new fans.
Three years later, the driver from Monterrey, Mexico has become NASCAR’s Hard Luck Kid. After two seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing followed by a year with Stewart-Haas Racing where he barely missed the field for the playoffs, Suarez arrived at this year’s Daytona 500 having to race his way into the field.
After being involved in a crash with Ryan Blaney on lap 30 of Thursday night’s first Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona, Suarez will not race in Sunday’s Daytona 500. His Gaunt Brothers Racing team does not own a charter and he was not fast enough during Sunday’s single-lap qualifying session to lock himself into the field.
That set up a scenario where Suarez, Cup veteran Reed Sorenson, Justin Haley or Chad Finchum had to race into the field through the first of the two Daytona 500 qualifying races.
“All I want to do is go home,” Suarez said. “I don’t know if the 2 (Brad Keselowski) was going to pit or everyone else was going to pit. He put his hand out of the window next to the 4 (Kevin Harvick), when I saw that he started to slow down. I moved to the right to avoid him and (Blaney) did not give me enough room.
“I feel a lot of frustration – a broken heart. I’ve been working my ass off to make this happen and it just doesn’t work.”
In the old days of the Daytona Duels, there would be many heartbreak stories coming from the qualifying races. However, with 43 entries for the 40-car starting positions, those stories are limited.
Justin Haley finished 17th and advanced into the race as the highest finishing open driver – a competitor without a charter – in the field. Haley was already locked into the race via his qualifying time, but because he raced his way in that meant that Sorenson would make the race via his qualifying time instead.
While Team Penske driver Joey Logano was celebrating his victory in the first Duel, Sorenson breathed a sigh of relief by making the field.
“I have a pretty blue car and now maybe we can put some sponsor’s decals on it,” Sorenson said. “We’re in the Daytona 500.
“We’re racing. We have the green light to be aggressive.
“You never know when you will get a chance to run in the Daytona 500 again. Now, I can enjoy the moment and the weekend.”
Sorenson drives for Premium Motorsports and is a veteran of the NASCAR Cup Series. He began his career in 2006 with Chip Ganassi Racing and was another driver ticketed for stardom.
By contrast, now he races for smaller teams in the series that have to race their way into the field instead of being locked in for the Daytona 500.
“It is a big deal,” Sorenson said. “The money that comes into this race for a small team helps get the ball rolling financially. These guys work very hard on the motor. This is probably the best motor I’ve ever had to get into the Daytona 500.
“I’m proud of everybody and looking forward to Sunday. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Anything can happen here. This is the best engine I’ve had in years. I was pretty happy with it. You can win. It can happen. We will be cautious.
“This motivates everybody. I don’t know if it is more satisfying being with a small team that makes it or with a big team that does well. I’ve been on the other side of the garage area and have faced the challenge that come with it.
“I’m happy to be with this car owner and have a chance to race.”