Ex-Joe Gibbs Driver Daniel Suarez to Run With JGR New Hire Martin Truex Jr. at NASCAR Test
Suarez, the newly announced Stewart-Haas Racing driver, will face the man who displaced him at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Goodyear will conduct its first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series tire test of 2019 on Wednesday and Thursday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Among the drivers participating will be new Stewart-Haas Racing driver Daniel Suarez and the driver who displaced him a Joe Gibbs Racing for the upcoming season, 2017 Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr.
“So far, everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing has made me feel like home,” Suarez said during a Monday press conference by Stewart-Haas Racing to announce Suarez’s hiring. “We’re going to have our first test at a race track later this week, so I feel like a lot of good things are happening so we can perform well on and off of the race track.”
Only three drivers and teams are expected to participate in the two-day test, the other being reigning champion Joey Logano and his No. 22 Team Penske Ford crew.
Suarez was thrust into NASCAR’s top series upon the surprise retirement of Carl Edwards just before the start of the 2017 season. Suarez was fresh off of winning the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship for Joe Gibbs Racing, and JGR had little time to replace Edwards in its No. 19 Cup car.
The 2017 season also was the second year of a technical alliance between JGR and Truex Jr.’s No. 78 FRR team that came with Furniture Row Racing’s switch from Chevrolet to Toyota. While Suarez was experiencing his first season in the Cup Series, Truex Jr. and FRR were beating JGR with its own equipment.
In 2018, Truex Jr. won only half the races of Gibb’s most successful driver, Kyle Busch, four to eight. But Truex Jr. finished the season second in the standings while Busch wound up fourth.
By the 2018 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Furniture Row Racing already had announced its closure, effective at the end of the season, just one year removed from winning NASCAR’s top championship. Team owner Barney Visser mentioned the increased cost of his alliance with JGR as one of the expenses that were taking his team out of the sport.
"We’ve been aggressively seeking sponsorship to replace 5-Hour Energy and to offset the rising costs of continuing a team alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing but haven’t had any success,” Visser said in a press release announcing the closure of his race team.
Furniture Row Racing was dead, and Joe Gibbs Racing wasted no time in poaching the remains, taking driver, crew chief Cole Pearn, and sponsors Bass Pro Shops and Auto-Owners Insurance. But Gibbs was at its Cup Series cap of four teams/drivers. Someone had to go to make room for JGR’s latest get, and that casualty was Suarez.
“Anytime you have an opportunity to bring two people of this caliber into your organization, it’s certainly an exciting time,” JGR owner Joe Gibbs said in a press conference announcing Truex Jr. and Pearn’s hiring. “They obviously have developed a chemistry that has led to tremendous success, including a championship. We’ve gotten to know them well over the past few years through the alliance and having been part of the Toyota family. They both make us stronger as an organization.”
Suarez admitted Monday that there were bitter feelings upon finding out he’d be displaced by Truex Jr. for 2019, but he’s looking ahead to the fresh start he’ll be getting with his new team.
“The reality is that this is a business, and it is very hard to have hard feelings. At the same time, it's very hard not to take it personal because it is my life in the middle of all this,” Suarez said. "But at the end of the day, I felt like this is the best seat that actually could happen. I needed fresh air. I needed a change. Last year wasn't good for me.”
The No. 41 car Suarez is moving to won at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee last year and advanced to the Round of Eight in the 2018 playoffs with Kurt Busch behind the wheel. In all, SHR’s four-car team, also consisting of returning drivers Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, and Aric Almirola, won 12 of the 36 points-paying races last season, the most of any team.
Also, while Truex Jr. brings his sponsors to JGR with him, Suarez is doing the same. Arris, his sponsor at Joe Gibbs Racing in both the Xfinity and Cup Series, is joining him at SHR.
The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season will get its official start Feb. 17 with the running of the Daytona 500.