NASCAR Barometer: Suarez Breaks Through in Sonoma

NASCAR Barometer: Suarez Breaks Through in Sonoma

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Sunday's trip West to Sonoma Raceway gave Daniel Suarez the chance to shine for his first NASCAR Cup Series victory. This is the former NASCAR Xfinity Series champion's sixth season at NASCAR's top level and his second with Trackhouse Racing. His partnership with Trackhouse seemed promising early, but victories still proved elusive. All that changed Sunday, though. Suarez started the weekend with a strong qualifying performance and then drove a superb final stage to finally close the deal by crossing the finish line first to become the 11th different winner this season. Signs of a victory had been there all season for Suarez and his No. 99 team. Quick race pace had been evident since the start of the season with the new car, and the final pieces came together Sunday with a mistake-free run that will give the team a massive boost heading into the only break in the schedule until the season concludes at Phoenix in November.

A well-deserved break awaits the Cup Series since teams have been competing every week since February. This will be the only break the competitors get all year, too. The schedule resumes its weekly march forward in two weeks at Nashville Speedway, where Kyle Larson dominated to win the circuit's debut on the series calendar last season. 

UPGRADE

Daniel Suarez – Joining Trackhouse Racing Team helped Suarez to quickly begin knocking on the door of victory. Frustratingly, in his second season with the team he watched his teammate score the first two

Sunday's trip West to Sonoma Raceway gave Daniel Suarez the chance to shine for his first NASCAR Cup Series victory. This is the former NASCAR Xfinity Series champion's sixth season at NASCAR's top level and his second with Trackhouse Racing. His partnership with Trackhouse seemed promising early, but victories still proved elusive. All that changed Sunday, though. Suarez started the weekend with a strong qualifying performance and then drove a superb final stage to finally close the deal by crossing the finish line first to become the 11th different winner this season. Signs of a victory had been there all season for Suarez and his No. 99 team. Quick race pace had been evident since the start of the season with the new car, and the final pieces came together Sunday with a mistake-free run that will give the team a massive boost heading into the only break in the schedule until the season concludes at Phoenix in November.

A well-deserved break awaits the Cup Series since teams have been competing every week since February. This will be the only break the competitors get all year, too. The schedule resumes its weekly march forward in two weeks at Nashville Speedway, where Kyle Larson dominated to win the circuit's debut on the series calendar last season. 

UPGRADE

Daniel Suarez – Joining Trackhouse Racing Team helped Suarez to quickly begin knocking on the door of victory. Frustratingly, in his second season with the team he watched his teammate score the first two wins for the organization. However, he remained close to getting the job done and finally earned his breakthrough Sunday at Sonoma. The former Xfinity Series champion dominated the road course, leading 47 laps and holding off Chris Buescher as he drove away to his first Cup Series victory. The win was his first top-five finish since Atlanta and adds him to the playoff picture. This season Suarez has been racing better than ever, and this win may be the first of more to come.

Joey Logano – As cars ahead opted to head to pit road before the end of stage 2, Logano cycled to the front to win his second stage of the season. The team made the conscious decision to maximize points, knowing the race win might be out of their reach. Winning the stage meant giving up track position for the start of the final segment. Being mired in traffic through the last stage was not ideal, and Logano only climbed back to 17th position for the finish. Still, the playoff point earned from another stage win should come in handy once the playoffs begin. With two wins so far this season the team is focused on making a run for that championship and will use this off week to refresh themselves to be ready for a charge to the finish.

Kyle Larson – Larson started his weekend at Sonoma out front, just like he finished it last season. The Hendrick driver started from pole and went on to lead every lap on his way to his second stage win of the season. That success didn't stay with him until the finish, though. After working his way back into the top 10 in the final stage, he lost a wheel after what should have been his final stop. The wheel came off just after he came out of the pits and left him limping around for nearly an entire lap before he stopped again and had a new one fitted. It was a disastrous day for Hendrick in the pits, and the No. 5 crew proved not to be immune. Larson dominated last season's trip to Nashville, leading 264 of 300 laps and winning the race, but the Hendrick organization must use the week of to right their ship.

Michael McDowell – Fantasy players who have been around know McDowell has the skills that enable him to be a factor on both superspeedways and road courses. He proved that prowess again Sunday at Sonoma. The former Daytona 500 winner qualified fourth for Sunday's race and then went on to confidently hold station in the top five to score a third-place finish, his first top-five of the year and second top 10 in the last three races. With just four playoff spots remaining for nonwinners, McDowell will need another victory to earn his second playoff appearance. With three more road course races left before the playoffs and Daytona closing out the regular season, anything is possible for the No. 34. Fantasy players should be comfortable selecting McDowell to represent them in any of those races.

Kevin Harvick – Sunday was another good points day for Harvick, as he picked up his fourth top-five of the season and his second in the last three races. Days like that have been important for the former champion as he remains winless on the season. However, with another new winner, the points race to make the playoffs got even tighter, knocking Harvick back below the cut line in 17th position, just seven points behind teammate Aric Almirola. The consistency Harvick is delivering right now may turn into a victory sooner rather than later, however. This team has been on their best run of form this season since Talladega. They were strong at Nashville last season, too. Harvick qualified 12th for that race and finished fifth.

DOWNGRADE

Tyler Reddick – Sunday's race initially seemed like it would be another chance for Reddick to fight for a first series win, but compounding circumstances ruined the afternoon. The car was quick enough to be a top-five contender, but a speeding penalty at the end of stage 2 put the team further back in traffic than they would have wanted. Contact in that traffic broke a rear wheel, sending the car to the garage for extensive repairs. The team got the fix done and Reddick returned to the race, but he was 14 laps down at that point and could only hope others had trouble, too. Reddick finds himself entering the off week 42 points behind 16th in the playoff standings. The best thing this team can do for the remainder of the season is continue to try to find Victory Lane, a feat not too far out of their reach.

Kyle Busch – Sonoma should have been a good race for Busch. He started the weekend perfectly, winning the Truck Series race on Saturday and getting extra seat time to prepare for Sunday. Unfortunately, the No. 18 wasn't one of the quickest throughout the race. In fact, Busch was so far back before pit stops in the final stage that the team opted to short pit, gaining track position when the yellow came out for Larson's lost wheel. Busch was in prime position to capitalize on being back toward the front but locked his wheels and spun entering turn 7 following the restart. It was a day to forget for the two-time winner at the track. Busch started on the front row at Nashville last season but finished that day in 11th place.

Bubba Wallace – Engine failures have become a relatively rare phenomenon in NASCAR in recent years. Unfortunately, Wallace lost his engine remarkably early Sunday at Sonoma. The car billowed smoke just 10 laps into the race as he entered turn 4, coasting to a stop at the top of the NASCAR chute with fluid pouring out of the exhaust pipes. The DNF was not what he needed in terms of making up ground on the playoff positions. Wallace has failed to finish in the top 25 in each of the three races since the All-Star Race and heads into the lone week off knowing that he will have to win a race to be part of the championship fight this season. He finished 20 at Nashville in last season's inaugural race at the track and will need some big changes to get moving the right direction again.

Denny Hamlin – Like the other Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Hamlin struggled Sunday. He started the race 10th but was never a factor in the race. He missed scoring stage points in each of the segments and then was forced to go off strategy late in the final stage, hoping that an unexpected caution would jumble the field and enable him to move forward in the order. Instead, the race stayed green and Hamlin circulated home just in front of the leader as the last car on the lead lap. It was a race to forget for the entire team, as none of the teammates finished in the top 25. In fact, the highest placed Toyota in Sunday's race was only 18th. Hamlin and his team will hope to get back to running up front at Nashville after consecutive finishes outside of the top 30.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Chris Buescher – Buescher's name is not exactly one that rises to the top of the list when fantasy players contemplate lineups for road course races, but last week's trip to Sonoma may change that thinking in the future. Buescher impressively qualified third and then went on to prove that pace was no fluke in the race by leading four laps and running in the top five all afternoon. The RFK Racing driver tried valiantly to chase down Suarez in the final laps, closing the gap to less than half a second, before succumbing to wearing tires and a runner-up finish. His second-place finish was his best of the year so far and was a nice reward for him after sitting out the week prior with Covid.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
Quaker State 400 Preview: Atlanta the Sequel
Quaker State 400 Preview: Atlanta the Sequel
NASCAR Barometer: Reddick Claims First Cup Victory
NASCAR Barometer: Reddick Claims First Cup Victory
NASCAR DFS: Kwik Trip 250
NASCAR DFS: Kwik Trip 250
NASCAR DFS Xfinity: Henry 180
NASCAR DFS Xfinity: Henry 180