Saturday, September 23, 2023

Christie: Daniel Suárez Showed Championship-Caliber Heart in Persevering Without Power Steering at Roval

Daniel Suárez power steering Charlotte Roval
Daniel Suárez endured driving his No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet with no power steering for 21 laps in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval. Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett, NKP

“I don’t know if I’m going to make it, man,” were the words groaned by Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suárez on his team radio while suffering from no power steering assistance in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America Roval 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Suárez did in fact make it.

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No, not into the next round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. The adversity he endured was simply too much for that. But the native of Monterrey, Mexico incredibly made it through the end of the race, and in doing so, I believe the respect that his team had for him, which was already sky high heading into the day, broke through the Earth’s atmosphere on Sunday.

At any time during the second half of that race, Suárez could have decided to quit. He could have decided to throw his hands up and storm off, and nobody would have thought twice about it.

He didn’t.

The 30-year-old racer showed the mental and physical toughness of a champion, and hung tough all day, giving his team a chance to advance to the Round of 8 of the Playoffs if some of his competitors found trouble.

They didn’t.

The power steering issue first cropped up for Suárez when his No. 99 CommScope Chevrolet Camaro began overheating with 47 laps remaining in the event. Moments later, his steering wheel began vibrating violently and it now required Herculean strength for Suárez to turn it enough to make it through all 14 turns around the grueling road course.

Suárez, a Round of 12 Playoff contender, was 12 points above the Round of 8 cut line at the time that the power steering issue occurred.

Over the next 21 laps, Suárez saw that 12-point advantage evaporate as he dropped through the running order, and lost two laps to the race leader Chase Elliott.

Lap after lap, Suárez continued to lose pace with his hampered race car. He eventually got to the point where he was turning laps roughly 16-seconds slower than what Elliott was turning at the front of the field.

After squeezing every ounce of strength from his shoulders, biceps, forearms, and back, all the while screaming obscenities and battle cries on the radio in an effort to power through the pain, Suárez’s team had prepared repairs for his situation on pit road.

Suárez would return to pit road with 26 laps remaining in the race. And after his team tinkered with the hydraulic power steering assist system, Suárez was sent back on the track and was back to turning competitive lap times.

However, with it being a relatively clean race — at least until the final six laps — Suárez was unable to gain any positions by way of attrition.

At the end of the 112-lap race, in which Suárez completed 107 laps, the 30-year-old driver was officially eliminated from the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. Suárez was just nine points shy of Chase Briscoe who leap-frogged both Suárez and defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson to make it to the Round of 8.

It was a stunning exit from the Playoffs for Suárez, who excelled on road courses in 2022 and had a strong showing going on Sunday (Suárez racked up a combined 13 Stage points in Stages 1 and 2) before the mechanical issue.

Following the race, a fatigued Suárez explained that this isn’t the first time Trackhouse Racing had this type of power steering issue at the Roval.

“We had exactly the same issue eight months ago when we were testing here,” Suárez stated with frustration. “I don’t know. Somehow we just didn’t fix it right, I guess.”

Whatever caused the failure in an offseason test at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Trackhouse Racing was unable to cure the ailment this time around. And it was the driver that ultimately had to suffer behind the wheel.

“Without the steering, I was just trying to survive,” Suárez admitted. “My arms are destroyed right now. My hands are destroyed.”

While he wasn’t sure if he was going to make it to the end of the race, and while he didn’t find a way to miraculously stay above the cut line, Suárez showed that he has the grit, determination, and heart to eventually be a champion in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Losing power steering at any type of race track would be a chore. Losing it at a technical 14-turn road course like the Charlotte Roval is a near-impossible task.

Suárez made the impossible, possible.

But that’s what this driver does. A few years ago, people expected his career in NASCAR was all but done.

Suárez had been bounced from two powerhouse organizations — Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing — and had clung to life at the underfunded Gaunt Brothers Racing for the 2020 season.

After struggling mightily, Suárez opted to take a chance on the brand new Trackhouse Racing team, which was founded by Justin Marks, for the 2021 season. Many, including former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt laughed at the move. One year later, Suárez scored his first-career victory at Sonoma Raceway.

He also made his first appearance in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. And he damn near advanced to the Round of 8. I’d say Suárez got the last laugh.

If you think Suárez’s 2022 campaign was good, I think he is truly just starting to scratch the surface of what he’s capable of. You can teach a lot of things, but there’s one thing you can’t teach and that’s heart. Suárez has a ton of it and it showed at the Roval on Sunday.

Toby Christie
Toby Christie
Toby is the Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Toby is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, he is an award-winning writer, and has followed the sport as a fan since 1993.

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