Daniel Suarez was confident that he would be back for a second season at Stewart-Haas Racing. A second season that won’t happen.
The team announced Friday that Cole Custer would replace Suarez in the No. 41 car in 2020. Suarez, who came to SHR from Joe Gibbs Racing, told reporters after that announcement that he was “95 percent” sure that he would be back with the team next season.
“I have been talking with most of you for the last few weeks and I am pretty sure that most of you saw me very confident because I knew where we were,” Suarez said. “I was 95 percent sure that we were in. I thought we were in good shape. I was extremely surprised. A lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing worked very hard to put everything together. It was disappointing to see that. Tony Stewart was pushing for me so hard. [Team executive] Brett Frood, a lot of people in Stewart-Haas Racing. Unfortunately things didn’t work out with Haas.”
‘Gene actually controls the 41 car’
Haas, in this case, would be team co-owner Gene Haas. Stewart said Friday at a press conference that Haas was the decision maker for the No. 41. Haas added the No. 41 car to his team’s lineup in 2014 when he signed Kurt Busch to join SHR. Suarez replaced Busch after Busch didn’t re-sign with the team.
“Gene actually controls the 41 car, but we're all comfortable with the decision,” Stewart said. “I spoke to Gene a lot about it. We feel like Cole has done a great job this year, and Cole has earned his right to be in the Cup Series next year, with seven wins and running for a championship. He deserves it.
“You know, it ultimately is Gene's decision, but like I said, this is something that as a company we all agreed with and feel like that Cole has earned his right to be in the series and have an opportunity like this.”
Custer is the son of Stewart-Haas Racing president Joe Custer. Cole Custer has won seven of 32 Xfinity Series races this season and is one of the four drivers competing for the series title on Saturday.
“Tony is a great guy,” Suarez said. “In the last six months I have learned that he is a very good friend. In the last week I have been talking to him a lot. He was talking to a lot of people and he was pushing very hard for me.
“Unfortunately the 41 team, and especially the 41, he doesn't have a lot that he can do with that car because the 41 is not his car. He pushed. I am sure that he pushed as hard as he could, like a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing did. It just didn’t work out.”
Haas brought Stewart on as a co-owner of the team in 2009 when the team was rebranded to Stewart-Haas Racing. Since then, the team’s performance has skyrocketed and so has its car count. The team has gone from two cars to four.
Haas’ machine tool company Haas CNC has filled in as a sponsor on many of the team’s cars when necessary. It’s had a large presence on both Suarez’s No. 41 and Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 in 2019.
‘This wasn’t because we didn’t perform’
Suarez was adamant that his performance in the car had nothing to do with the team’s decision to change drivers. Suarez is 17th in the points standings — the top driver who didn’t qualify for the playoffs — and has four top-five finishes. He had four top fives in 2017 and 2018 combined.
He said he and his representatives had gotten a commitment for “several millions” in sponsorship money but an issue was that part of that funding “was going to come in a few months from now.” Suarez said that he doesn’t have a ride lined up for the 2020 season yet because he was just a couple of days removed from finding out that he wouldn’t be back at SHR.
“Maybe a lot of people don't believe this but this wasn’t a problem of results. This wasn’t because we didn’t perform” Suarez said. “Kevin Harvick is an amazing driver with an amazing team and has been doing an amazing job and that is why he is here today, fighting for a championship. But if you think about it, we have been racing along the other two cars very even the whole year even though we were a new team. We have had issues with pit crew and changed the pit crew around several times this year to improve.
“That is the sad part for myself, that I have spent a lot of time working with my team to make my team better and changed the pit crew many times and moved people around and the spotter and a couple other things. I felt like we finally got everything clicking better the last month, month-and-a-half to be stronger. Now everything is coming apart. Honestly, I feel like that has been my Cup career so far. I have been in the Cup Series for two years but I haven’t had six months of consistency in my Cup career. I am sure I will catch a break at one point.”
Suarez was abruptly elevated to the Cup Series on the heels of his 2016 Xfinity Series title after Carl Edwards retired in January of 2017. He spent two seasons at JGR before the team signed Martin Truex Jr. after Furniture Row Racing folded. Suarez was the driver who made way for Truex’s arrival.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports
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