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Daniel Suarez seeks to shake off Fontana near-miss

By his count, Daniel Suarez has replayed the finish of last Sunday’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway “only like 137 times.”

After a late-race charge, the Trackhouse Racing driver lined up alongside Kyle Larson on the front row for the restart with four laps to go.

Suarez briefly took the lead off Turn 2 with three laps to go. But through Turns 3 and 4, Suarez stuck to the bottom instead of trying to blunt Larson’s momentum along the wall.

“That was a decision that I made and that is a decision I am going to live the rest of my life with,” Suarez said Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

If you can’t tell, it didn’t work out. Larson surged up to Suarez off the top, drove to his inside through the tri-oval, and had the lead back by the time they reached Turn 1.

Larson went on to win the race, while Suarez faded to fourth.

Despite the setback, it was still one of the stronger days that the 2-year-old Trackhouse organization has had in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Teammate Ross Chastain, also pushed toward the front before a spin with 29 laps to go - while running sixth - ended his chances of getting the result.

With that, Suarez and his No. 99 crew feel they’re going in the right direction entering Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox).

“Every time you get the opportunity to have a shot at winning, you get more confident,” said Suarez, who starts 21st Sunday. “You get hungrier and that happens not just for me as a driver, but for the entire team. My engineers, my crew chief (Travis Mack), my pit crew - on Monday night, I got to meet with most of them and they were ready to race again on Tuesday.

“We are very excited. I have an amazing team. All of them, they want to win, be competitive. And when you know that you can, you just show up to the racetrack even more excited. I’m very fortunate to be in this position. I think that we’re going to be able to do some fun things this year.”

It’s a great situation for Suarez, who believes he always had something missing in his previous years in Cup.

That’s despite racing for two of the sport’s elite teams, Joe Gibbs Racing (2017-18) and Stewart-Haas Racing (2019), before enduring a frustrating 2020 with Gaunt Brothers Racing.

He’s not sure if it was down to his lack of experience or not expressing himself more. And he says that when he joined Trackhouse in 2021, that “something missing” had not been filled.

But he believed the organization would give him what he needed to fill it.

“You have to be either very good or very lucky to land into a team that’s already great,” Suarez said. “Many times you have to build it. Many times, it can take you your entire career to find that or sometimes, it is already like that.

“In my case, it has been a process to find that and learning and knowing what I need, what I don’t need.”

The process continues for the Mexican native. But as Suarez and Trackhouse grow together, there’s also a sense that it will lead to something special.

As for now, Suarez feels he’s with the best team he’s had in Cup.

“I’m talking about everything,” he said. “Engineers, crew chiefs, pit crew, like, (a) complete team. It’s pretty amazing and I am very, very proud to be in the level I am right now with experience and with all the experiences with this team right now.

“I’m just trying to enjoy the moment as much as I can.”