The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns after a weekend off for the season’s 10th race. Competitors next head to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where Daniel Suárez will pilot the No. 41 Coca-Cola Orange Vanilla Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
After enjoying the off weekend in his home country of Mexico, Suárez heads to the Alabama track for this year’s first event at the 2.66-mile oval. In last year’s fall race at Talladega, the four-car SHR contingent dominated the 188-lap event. For almost the entire race, the four SHR Fords were nose to tail and led a combined 155 laps before then-SHR freshman driver Aric Almirola went on to earn the victory. All three of Suárez’s SHR teammates have earned Cup Series victories at Talladega. Almirola and Kevin Harvick each have one victory, and Clint Bowyer has two.
“At Daytona (this year’s season opener), I think I had the best superspeedway car I’ve ever had, so that makes me excited for Talladega,” Suárez said. “It’s always good to have great communication with your teammates, especially at a track like Talladega. You have to work with your teammates. You can’t win the race by yourself. I feel very good working with Kevin, Clint and Aric this weekend at Talladega. We always have plans as teammates, you just hope you’re able to execute them. It’s the biggest oval racetrack that we go to all year, and it’s a lot of fun not only on the track, but also in the infield.”
With this year’s new rules package at Talladega, the Cup Series will utilize a tapered spacer versus the traditional restrictor plate. “It’s going to be totally different with the tapered spacer versus the restrictor plate,” Suárez said. “At Daytona earlier this year, it was very similar to what we are used to seeing because we still had the restrictor plate, but at Talladega this weekend with the new package, it’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out,” he said. “It will be the first time for everyone to experience it but, hopefully, we can be the team that adapts the quickest to get the best result.”
Talladega marks the inaugural time Suárez will drive the No. 41 Mustang with Coca-Cola livery for SHR. For the first time in 10 years, Coca-Cola launched a new flavor with two options, Orange Vanilla and Orange Vanilla Coke Zero Sugar. In addition to Suárez driving the bright orange-and-red Orange Vanilla scheme at Talladega, Coca-Cola will also adorn the No. 41 machine for the May 26 race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. Fans will also have the opportunity to enjoy a sweet view from inside Suárez’s cockpit with an in-car camera provided by Coca-Cola for this Sunday’s event. “Coca-Cola has been a supporter of mine for a long time and I enjoy working with them,” he said. “They have the new Orange Vanilla flavor and it’s cool to drive a unique paint scheme this weekend and hopefully we’re spraying a bunch of Coca-Cola in victory lane on Sunday.”
With Talladega Superspeedway earlier this month, Suárez visited the Atlanta United FC Major League Soccer team at its practice facility in Marietta, Georgia. The team’s star forward Josef Martinez swapped jerseys with Suárez, who also received a tour of the facility and interacted with players. “I had a good time at the Atlanta United practice facility with the players,” the SHR driver said. “I played soccer growing up in Mexico and I think I was actually pretty good at it until racing took over. It’s neat to experience other sports and meet the athletes. Unfortunately, my schedule doesn’t line up so that I can go to their game on Saturday in Atlanta, but I’ll be following along.”
This weekend’s Coca-Cola driver has four Cup Series starts at Talladega with a best result of 10th, as well as 12 laps led. After a refreshing week of vacation, he’s looking to improve on that. He also has three starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Talladega with two top-10 finishes and five laps led. The 27-year-old also earned a 15th-place finish in his one NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series start at the superspeedway.
DANIEL SUÁREZ, Driver of the No. 41 Coca-Cola Orange Vanilla Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How do you feel about the new rules package overall this season?
“It’s interesting because in the straightaway we are going a little bit slower, but in the corners we are going quite a bit faster. The rules changed a good amount to make it better, tighter racing. NASCAR has done a good job with the changes. I would say that in Texas we probably saw one of the best races that we have seen in a while there.”
Where does your love of cars and racing come from?
“My family doesn’t come from racing, but my love for cars comes from working with my dad in his car restoration shop. I remember, since I was a kid, that my mom would send me with my dad to the shop in the morning and then in the afternoon I would come home dirty with grease all over me, and mom was all mad (laughs), but that’s how I got into cars. Then, as I got a little bit older, I was all about making those cars he restored to go faster, putting big engines in them to make them go fast. Eventually, I got invited by some friends to go to a go-kart race and the rest is history.”
You saw the strong SHR Talladega performance from a different vantage point last year when you were with another team. What were you thinking when you saw all four SHR cars running together up front and then essentially becoming their own draft in their own lead pack?
“When you’re in that position, you want to do everything you can to try to separate those drivers, because if you don’t they’re too strong together. My goal was to try to get in the mix, but that’s not easy. You need to have a very fast racecar to be able to do that and not just fast in the straightway, but you need a good-handling racecar, too. Last year, Stewart-Haas was able to do a good job on the superspeedways and in many other racetracks, too. I do remember the Talladega race, which was very impressive. Later on, I got the opportunity to have conversations with Stewart-Haas Racing and all those impressive moments came back to my mind. I said, ‘Man. I hope we can do that again.’”