Sunday, June 13, 2021

CUP: Daniel Suarez eliminated in early wreck with Erik Jones at Texas

PHOTO: Brock Beard

Daniel Suarez finished last in Sunday’s running of the All-Star Open at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #99 CommScope Chevrolet was eliminated in a two-car accident after 13 of 50 laps.

Overlooked for much of the previous offseason was the birth of Team Trackhouse, founded by former NASCAR driver Justin Marks with support from Richard Childress Racing. The team had landed Suarez as driver, but didn’t receive much press compared to 23XI Racing, co-owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan. That is, until recording star Pitbull joined weeks before the Daytona 500. Suarez showed speed in his qualifier for the Daytona 500, and after he was collected in the race’s biggest wreck has since matched and at times exceeded the performance of Bubba Wallace at 23XI.

Suarez ran Top 20 in three of the first six races, then led 58 laps on the Bristol Dirt Track before Joey Logano passed him for the win. He ran 11th at Kansas, 9th at Dover, and nearly had another Top 10 at Sonoma before a late-race scuffle with Michael McDowell. At rainy COTA, the team showed its determination by changing two transmissions on the same day, avoiding their first last-place finish in the process. Since then, motivational speaker Tony Robbins has eyed investing in the team. They’ve also matched 23XI’s rumors of possibly expanding to two cars are soon as next season.

Suarez, who won the Open in 2017 and finished runner-up the next year, had crossed paths with Bubba Wallace in the Open before. In 2019, Wallace made contact with Suarez while battling for the lead, sending Suarez spinning while Wallace made the show. Now on competing start-up teams, there was a possibility for a repeat as the two lined up nose-to-tail for the second-straight race: 

Rolling off 22nd and last was David Starr, who was eligible for running the event when he made his lone start of 2021 in this year’s Coca-Cola 600, finishing 36th in Motorsports Business Management’s #66 Toyota. This time around - with Timmy Hill in the #66 - Starr would run MBM’s #13, an effort that hasn’t run a Cup race since Garrett Smithley narrowly missed the field for this year’s Daytona 500. This time, the car was flat black with a logo for T-Top Manufacturing on the hood and Cantera Design Builders on the quarter-panels.

Suarez pulls his wrecked car behind the wall.

Prior to the start of the race, Starr incurred a tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments. This likely stemmed from the crew working under the hood while the other cars were gridded. Two more cars would join him. Ross Chastain was set to start 5th in the #42 McDonald’s Chevrolet until he twice failed inspection as the aero ducts did not conform to OEM specifications. Chastain’s crew chief was ejected and the team was handed a $25,000 fine. Also sent to the rear was 16th-place starter Austin Cindric, whose #33 Pirtek Ford twice failed inspection for another reason, leaving them among the last of the Open cars to join the grid on pit road.

During the pace laps, Starr and Chastain started in the final row. Chastain drew away at the start, and by the end of Lap 1 was running by himself. NASCAR then posted Chris Buescher’s #17 Fastenal Ford and, by Lap 4, Austin Cindric’s docked #33, likely for start violations. Neither would serve their penalty before Lap 5, when Bubba Wallace drew the first caution for spinning his #23 Door Dash Toyota in Turn 2. Wallace took last from Starr, and Cindric and Buescher served their penalties by dropping to the tail end of the longest line.

On the Lap 9 restart, Buescher spun in Turn 4 after contact in the left-rear from Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s #47 Kroger / Bush’s Beans Chevrolet. Like Wallace, Buescher avoided serious damage and came down pit road for fresh tires and a pull on the fender. He took over last place, which had also been held by Timmy Hill after he dropped to the tail end in MBM’s #66 Boathouse Bar & Grill / Oak’d Handcrafted BBQ Toyota. Hill had laid back under caution, and had been joined in the rear by B.J. McLeod, who had pulled to the outside to let traffic pass in the #78 Surface Sunscreen Ford. McLeod stayed ahead of Hill, who briefly held the spot until Lap 13, when Josh Bilicki took over the spot in his #52 Junction Fuels Ford.

Erik Jones' wrecked car that collected Suarez

Suarez didn’t enter the last-place picture until the following restart on Lap 14, when contact from Chase Briscoe’s #14 Ford Performance Racing School Ford sent Erik Jones spinning his #43 Petty’s Garage Chevrolet in Turn 4. The field split around the sideways Jones, but Suarez couldn’t avoid slamming into the front of his car with the right-front of his #99. Suarez cut to pit road and immediately pulled into the first garage opening, followed a few seconds later by Jones. Both were done for the night, their haulers parked next to each other as they unloaded. 

I was unable to reach both Suarez and Jones for comment. However, I did speak to a few other drivers on their experience.

“Actually, it was fun,” said B.J. McLeod, who finished 12th. “I like this place. This package, you run easy wide-open in three and four, and one’s a challenge because you have to back out of the gas. So, interesting and just had fun. We made some adjustments to see if we could get a little better, and so we did.”

“I was really happy,” said Cody Ware, who finished 11th. “I was happy to see we had some good speed with this package, so hopefully next year with this new Next-Gen car coming out, we’ll see some more of the same, improving the program, getting some better equipment, and just progressing. . .Seeing how the PJ1 activates, how long it took to come in, is good to know. I don’t think we’re going to be doing as much drafting when we go back to the 550 package coming in November, but I think other than that, just seeing we have a good mile-and-a-half package and we’re improving it. Had a good run at the 600, backed it up here with a solid finish, so I’m really happy with what Mike Hillman and the guys on the Nurtec ODT car are doing this year.”

“For us, it was gonna be a practice session,” said David Starr, who finished 18th. “Trying to make our cars better and me and Timmy (Hill) were racing hard back there and just making some pit stops, trying some stuff. We knew we wasn’t gonna transfer, but we were racing hard to make our cars better. And, I’ll tell you what – that first segment was crazy. They were wrecking each other left and right. I don’t know if they were wrecking each other on purpose, but it just seemed like every time you’d go green, two or three laps later, it was a cation coming out. It’d happen right in front of you. But that’s what you get when you have a Saturday night feature on a Sunday afternoon at the Texas Motor Speedway. . .It was a fun race, man. I’m just glad I was in it.”

The next two spots in the Bottom Five were given to Ross Chastain, who overcame his pre-race penalty to win Stage 1, and polesitter Tyler Reddick, who claimed Stage 2 in the #8 iCash Autos / I Am Second Chevrolet. Starr rounded out the group, last of the four drivers who were lapped by the time Aric Almirola won the third and final stage. Matt DiBenedetto, the runner-up, scored the Fan Vote to transfer into the main event.

*This marked only the second last-place finish for the #99 in the Open race. The other occurrence was at Charlotte on May 22, 2004, when Jeff Burton’s #99 Roundup FastAct Ford was among the 11 drivers collected in a pileup on the initial start.

22) #99-Daniel Suarez / 13 laps / crash
21) #43-Erik Jones / 13 laps / crash
20) #42-Ross Chastain / 20 laps / stage 1 winner / led 2 laps
19) #8-Tyler Reddick / 40 laps / stage 2 winner / led 38 laps
18) #13-David Starr / 49 laps / running

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