Column: Karting Has Accelerated Daniel Suarez’s Road Course Learning Curve

Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – WATKINS GLEN, NY – Daniel Suarez is a quick study.

With a racing background that includes very little road course experience, Suarez nevertheless finished third last year at Watkins Glen, his only top-five result in his rookie season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

He matched that third-place run earlier this year at Dover and improved his career best by one position last Sunday at Pocono Raceway. In Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Suarez will make his second start at the 2.45-mile road course.

That he has his sights set on another top-five finish at the high-speed road course is emblematic of the 26-year-old Mexican driver’s seamless adaptation to a racing discipline that involves right turns as well as left.

“I didn’t have a lot of road course experience or roval experience when I was young, just go-karts, and that’s pretty much all I did on a road course,” Suarez said on Saturday morning at Watkins Glen.

“After that, I jumped pretty much straight to the stock car stuff, which became more ovals than road course racing.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that the karting experience wasn’t useful.

“I feel like go-karts is like the base of everything,” Suarez said. “It really helps a lot, but it’s very different as well because… just the weight and the way that it drives.

“In the go-kart, you can do everything extremely fast, and in this car, you have to wait longer, but the basics are the same. I feel that has been helpful to be running well in road course racing.”

IS MARTIN TRUEX JR. A BONA FIDE ROAD COURSE ACE?

Reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. has demonstrated the ability to win on a wide variety of venues.

Clearly, his superiority on 1.5-mile intermediate tracks can rightly be considered the primary strength of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team. But Truex also is adept at the road courses, as he recent record indicates.

Truex is the defending race winner at Watkins Glen International. He also won at Sonoma in June. And if Truex is first to the finish line in Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SIRIUSXM NASCAR Radio), he’ll be the first driver since Tony Stewart in 2004-2005 to win three straight road course events in the Cup series.

Does that qualify Truex as an elite road course driver? He’ll let others make that judgment.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be with a great team the past few years and to be able to take advantage of that,” Truex said. “They’ve given me great cars, and I feel like I’ve always been good at road courses. You look back in Xfinity Series days in Mexico (where he won in his only start in 2005), and things like that.

“I feel like we’ve always been strong on road courses, but now I feel like I have the team that gives me the capability of winning. So we’ve been winning. I don’t know how my name fits into that conversation. I guess you’d have to ask other people that.”

Truex acknowledges that winning three straight would be an important accomplishment.

“It means a lot to me, personally,” he said. “I think everyone in the garage… you want to be known in the garage as a driver that can win anywhere.

“Certainly, road courses are a unique set of circumstances. I think it’s an extra special feeling to be able to win at tracks that are completely different—like this.”

SHORT STROKES

Erik Jones was fastest in Saturday’s opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Watkins Glen International, pacing four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas in the top seven with a lap at 125.165 mph. JGR teammate Kyle Busch, the series leader, with second on the speed chart at 124.255 mph. Ryan Newman scraped the guard rail near the top of the esses in opening practice after posting the 13th fastest lap in the session. Denny Hamlin lightly brushed the Armco barrier at the bottom of the esses and lost practice time while his team made cosmetic repairs…

Chase Elliott jumped to the top of the speed chart with 15 minutes left in Happy Hour, running a lap at 124.520 mph in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, as final practice produced a more eclectic mix than the first session did. Hamlin was second fastest at 124.365 mph. Aric Almirola (123.979 mph) had the third quickest lap in the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, with Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender William Byron fourth on the speed chart at 123.977 mph. Former Bondurant Racing School instructor Michael McDowell (123.911 mph) had the fifth best lap in the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford.