Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Looking simultaneously frustrated and disappointed, Daniel Suarez emerged from the Daytona International Speedway’s Infield Care Center Thursday night miffed at his early exit from the Bluegreen Vacations Duel 1 qualifying race – a fateful outcome that has cost him a position on Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) starting grid.
While trying to avoid a pitting Brad Keselowski, Suarez’s No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota collided with Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney only 30 laps into the Daytona 500 qualifying race. Suarez’s car slid down into the track’s infield grass and sustained enough damage to end his bid to earn a position in the sport’s big race.
After a mandatory medical exam by doctors, Suarez paused briefly to speak to reporters. And he did not mince words.
“I don’t know if the 2 [Keselowski] was going to pit or everyone else was going to pit or what the deal was,’’ Suarez said. “The 2 put his hand out the window and when I saw that he started slowing down I moved to the right to avoid him but the 12 didn’t give me enough room.
“All those secret calls they don’t work.
“There’s a lot of frustration and a broken heart because I’ve been working my butt off to try to make this happen and it doesn’t work.’’
Suarez moved to the No. 96 only a month ago, after learning he would not be retained by Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of 2019. His new Gaunt Brothers team didn’t have an automatic berth in the Daytona 500 and Suarez went into Thursday night’s race needing to finish ahead of three others – Justin Haley, Reed Sorenson and Chad Finchum – to earn a starting position in the 500. For much of the early race he was on pace to do so – running 10th before the first round of pit stops – the top Toyota and well in front of the three drivers he needed to beat.
A series of green flag pit stops just before his accident put Suarez behind the threesome he needed to better – but they still had to pit, meaning Suarez would likely have cycled back around. Unfortunately for the team, he never got the chance.
Suarez’ spotter Steve Barkdoll apologized to his team via radio communication insisting in the moments after the crash that the Penske team’s own spotters didn’t know their cars were going to pit at that point. He noted, and later so did Suarez, that the team was calling their pit stops on “secretive” radio channels and that the communication failed.
Ultimately, Team Penske’s Joey Logano won the race. Keselowski finished fourth and Blaney was 14th. Haley was best (17th) among the four drivers needing to still make the Daytona 500 field and Reed Sorenson, who finished 18th, got onto the starting grid via qualifying speed.
“My spotter was high-pitched to say the least,’’ Sorenson said when his spotter told him his competitor Suarez had been eliminated.
“Now I can enjoy the moment and the weekend,’’ he conceded.