Daniel Suarez did not get a chance to show any of his or the Gaunt Brother’s capability last week in Las Vegas, but he showed some promise. Suarez had some of his best runs on unrestricted, intermediate speedways. So did the No. 96 with Parker Kligerman behind the wheel.
Suarez’s car was smoking on the lead lap and when the green flag waved, it died as he hit the accelerator. The Toyota was pushed back to the pits where the team cycled the ECU box and got the car restarted. Suarez was two laps off the pace when he got back on track.
“Obviously, this is just a learning process,” Suarez said in a team press release after the race. “We had an issue with the ECU box in the beginning. We couldn’t figure out what was going on, but it put us into a hole and it was difficult to get out of the hole.
“I feel like we could have finished somewhere in the top-25, maybe even better than that. We had to fight hard. We learned a lot of different things that we can improve for next week. It feels good to get that first race in. We now know what we have to work on. We just have to go out there and keep digging.”
Could Suarez have finished in the top 25? Given the complexion of the race, that was the outside range of what could be expected, but that doesn’t mean they cannot this week.
Last fall the No. 96 finished 22nd at Texas – two laps off the pace. They were 26th in the Coke 600 in a race with a lot of attrition. Kligerman was four laps off the pace at the end of that race and again at Texas in the spring with another 26th-place finish.
Once they refired the car, Suarez another two laps. Ross Chastain was the first driver two laps off the pace in 27th. Suarez finished 30th.
But Suarez has been good at Auto Club Speedway in the past. In equipment with more funding, he scored a top-10 in his first start in 2017. He was 13th last year and has a worst of 23rd in three attempts.
The 2-mile tracks of Auto Club and Michigan International Speedway are among the closest comparatives on the track. The California course was built from the blueprint of Michigan and even though weather conditions have made a big difference, the width of the corners and length of the straightaways have always insured that a driver who runs well on one will do so on the other.
Dating back to fall 2018, Suarez has a current four-race top-15 streak on this track type. His last two Michigan races ended in top-fives. He is capable of earning a top-25. If all goes well, Suarez could earn a top-20 and anything in that range will make him a solid dark horse in salary cap games.
Career Average Finish: 14.3 in 3 starts (ranked 10th)
2019 Auto Club 400: 13
2018 Auto Club 400: 23
2019 Consumers Energy 400 (Michigan 2): 5
2019 Firekeepers Casino 400 (Michigan 1): 4