Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – CONCORD, NC – Daniel Suarez liked his chances in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway—and with good reason.
The driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was fastest in each of Saturday’s two practice sessions, as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams undertook the difficult task of dialing in their cars for NASCAR’s longest race—one that starts in sunshine and ends under the lights.
Though practice speeds aren’t always indicative of which cars will prevail in race traffic, Suarez found the performance of his Mustang more than encouraging.
“I will say one of the best for sure,” Suarez said of the quality of his car after Saturday’s final practice. “I feel like this year I’ve had some good race cars with an opportunity to finish in the top five and top 10, but I feel like this car has been pretty solid.
“It’s fast and it’s not comfortable to drive 100 percent, but I don’t feel like anyone out there is comfortable right now, so it’s been sunny and hot and slick, and that makes things a little bit more difficult. But overall my team has been doing a very good job with Stewart-Haas Racing and Ford Performance. We have a good piece.”
Thus far, seven drivers have secured their first Cup victories in the Coca-Cola 600: NASCAR Hall of Famers David Pearson, Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte, as well as Matt Kenseth, Austin Dillon, Casey Mears and David Reutimann.
Suarez has another “first” he can accomplish when he wins his first Cup race. No Mexican driver has ever triumphed in NASCAR’s premier series.
NASCAR HALL OF FAMER WADDELL WILSON GOT AHEAD BY PLAYING IT STRAIGHT
For a time, Bill France Jr. thought NASCAR Hall of Fame engine builder and crew chief Waddell Wilson had to be playing outside the rules, as fast as his cars were in the Daytona 500.
Wilson, on the other hand, had gotten a stern admonition from team owner John Holman.
“I learned so much from John Holman,” said Wilson, who was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday. “I remember him saying time and time again, he said, ‘Waddell, if I ever catch you cheating., I’ll fire you.’ And I knew he would.
“But he taught me that we could win races without it. That’s where Billy France Jr. and I became friends. He thought, when we were coming to Daytona and running as fast as we were, that we were cheating. Finally, he realized we weren’t, and then we became friends.”
In fact, Wilson won three championships as an engine builder and three Daytona 500s as a crew chief. Cars with his engines under the hood won 109 races and 123 poles.
“I was fortunate enough to get good drivers because of John Holman,” Wilson said during a question-and-answer session with reporters on Sunday at Charlotte motor Speedway. “He gave me a job, put me in the engine room, and it went from there.
“I’ve been with A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, working with those guys. And then to get this award (the Hall of Fame vote), it’s unbelievable. The drivers and the owners were the ones that got all the credit. We were just doing a job.”
JEFFREY EARNHARDT’S CAREER-BEST RUN HAS SPECIAL SIGNIFICANCE
The first top-five finish of Jeffrey Earnhardt’s NASCAR career couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
In Saturday’s Alsco 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the hood of Earnhardt’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota featured a tribute to officer Jordan Sheldon of Mooresville, N.C., who was killed May 4 during a traffic stop.
Earnhardt hit the outside wall and spun during the final stage of the race but rallied to finish third—his best result in any of NASCAR’s top three national series.
“It meant a lot to me having Officer Sheldon on the car today,” said Earnhardt, who received medical treatment after the race because of extreme heat inside the car. “Hopefully, he’s smiling down on us after that run and us bringing the iK9 Supra home third. I wouldn’t have thought we had a third-place car after practice on Thursday.
“I can’t thank the guys at iK9 and Joe Gibbs Racing enough for letting us run this paint scheme, and just everyone for their support and the respect they’ve shown. It’s amazing how the community came together for him and his family. It’s really touching, and it’s been great to see the respect shown for a man that loved his job and loved keeping our town of Mooresville safe.”