This weekend, for one of the few times this season, Daniel Suarez will be working from ahead.
That may provide the NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie his best opportunity yet to pick up his first series victory.
Suarez, a Mexico native who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, has almost a half-dozen starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the K&N Pro Series East, including a best finish of second in 2013.
Fresh off his second top-five finish of the season, Suarez is ready to capitalize in Saturday’s Lakes Region 200.
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“When I used to race in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, that was maybe my favorite race track,” Suarez said after his fourth-place finish Friday night at Kentucky Speedway. “We used to be very, very strong every single time, so I look forward to being strong one more time.”
It’s been a bumpy road for Suarez as he’s made the transition to competition in NASCAR’s national series this season.
He won five races and had seven top-five finishes in 15 starts last season in the Toyota Mexico Series, as well earning two wins in K&N Pro Series East. He debuted in the Xfinity Series with a 19th-place finish at Richmond, Va.
This season, Suarez moved up to a partial schedule in Trucks for Kyle Busch Motorsports as well as the full-time Xfinity ride with JGR.
Earlier this season he fumbled through some rookie mistakes, including a crash in qualifying at Daytona, pit road miscues and difficulty on restarts.
Suarez has never lost confidence and while greatly improving his use of the English language he has also found much more consistency on the track.
In 16 Xfinity races this season, he has six top-10 and two top-five finishes and is eighth in the series standings. He’s run seven Truck races and has yet to finish worse than ninth.
“I just feel different from right now to going back to the beginning of the year in February and March. I feel like a different driver, like I have been learning a lot,” he said.
“I really feel more confident running up front and with these guys. Not just running with them, but learning from all these guys because I really feel like we are learning from the best drivers.
“We have to keep it up and hopefully one race we can make it happen with a win.”
Suarez created a stir on social media during the Xfinity race at Kentucky when at one point early in the race he out-ran and passed teammate Kyle Busch on a restart – one of the best there is in the sport and the series’ all-time leader in wins.
“That was fun,” Suarez said of his battle with Busch. “That was fun to be passing my boss and it was good.
“I felt like I can be learning a lot from him and I’m really looking forward to keep learning from him and to keep passing him in the future.”
The transition from the Toyota Mexico and K&N Pro series has been a stark one, but Suarez has made great strides in a short time.
“This is pretty much my first year on big race tracks. I feel like that was the beginning of the year. Right now, I feel way more comfortable on the big race tracks,” he said.
“I’m learning a lot about aero and speeds. It’s been great so far. Joe Gibbs Racing has done an amazing job to help me learn.”
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter