The announcement earlier this week that Daniel Suárez will compete full-time in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series for Gaunt Brothers Racing is something of a mixed message. While on one hand it’s good for Suárez to be back behind the wheel, and admirable for Gaunt Brothers Racing to step up to the Cup Series, it promises to be a steep hill to climb for all concerned.
Suárez is one of the several drivers in recent memory – reference Jeff Green and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as examples – who scored tremendous success in the Xfinity (or Busch or whoever was the sponsor that year) Series but either has not or did not take his winning ways to the Cup level. He hasn’t been terrible in Cup, but when in three years spent driving for high roller teams, namely two years with Gibbs and one with Stewart-Haas, you have naught to show but eight top-fives, thirty-two top-tens, and three poles to your credit, it becomes clear why Suárez is now with his third team in four years. It certainly didn’t help his cause that Martin Truex Jr. was available in 2019. But to be replaced for 2020 by Cole Custer, who has yet to prove himself at Cup level although he has been major mojo in Xfinity – sound familiar? – has got to sting.
Making the situation even more challenging for Suárez? This is Gaunt’s first foray into full-time Cup competition. It’s also crew chief Dave Winston’s first time in the hot seat since 2016. His career stats? One top-ten finish in sixty-one races. Ouch.
Obviously it’s far too early in Suárez’s career to toss him into the never-will-be pile. He’s only 28, and he is not unfamiliar with the path to Victory Lane. The question is how will he be able to handle a situation where expectations are understandably lowered. Will Gaunt be able to give him a competitive car? Will Winston be able to perform at the level required for a Cup crew chief to enjoy success? Will Suárez be able to sufficiently up his game and prove he’s not an underachiever? Time will tell, but with that said it’s impossible to not root for Suárez and company to turn themselves into a pleasantly positive surprise.