The NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas will be the first without stage breaks since the end of the 2016 season. This is a rule change that will create conversations throughout the year, but Daniel Suarez believes it’s the right call.
The driver of the No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet Camaro met with media members on March 25 and discussed the lack of cautions between the stages. He explained that drivers could only fight for stage points or race wins in recent seasons. Now, however, they can pursue both while trying to maximize their day.
“It was almost like we put ourselves in a box every time,” Suarez said during a press conference at Circuit of the Americas. “Now I feel like it’s going to open the options a lot and the strategies and lot of things for the teams. I was talking to my team last night about all the different options — the fall-off that we have, the different strategy options, and all that kind of stuff.
“It’s going to be dependent on a little bit of luck. When the caution depends on where you are in your pit cycle. I’m excited for that. I’m excited to bring back the smarter engineers and put them back to work!”
The Rule Change Had 2 Tests on March 25
The Cup Series drivers will be the most high-profile competitors adapting to the rule change at the various road courses. They will not be the first considering that there were two national series races at Circuit of the Americas on March 25.
The Craftsman Truck Series and the Xfinity Series took part in a doubleheader at the Texas road course, and they put the new rule on display. They completed the first two stages of their respective races and then they continued racing instead of slowing down after the official waved the yellow flag.
The Truck Series race did have one caution at the end of Stage 2, but it was not planned. It actually disrupted Kyle Busch’s pursuit of his 64th career win in the series and led to another Front Row Motorsports celebration in Victory Lane.
The moment occurred after Busch crossed the start-finish line to win the second stage. Parker Kligerman’s No. 75 came to a stop on the frontstretch as smoke began to pour out of the right front wheel well. The team had to take the Chevrolet Silverado to the garage while the other drivers prepared for a restart.
The issue for Busch is that he had to make a pit stop after the caution erased a five-second lead. This opened up an opportunity for Zane Smith to take the lead after he headed to pit road before the end of the stage.
Busch restarted deep in the field while Smith led the field to the green flag. The reigning Truck Series champion then led the final 15 laps while the all-time winningest Truck Series driver picked his way through the field. Busch was able to pass Ben Rhodes and take second in the running order, but he could not erase a massive deficit by the end of the race. He settled for second while Smith celebrated his second consecutive COTA win.
Suarez Experienced Highs & Lows at Road Courses
Suarez’s comments about scoring points or pursuing wins come from a place of experience. He has dealt with the highs and lows of road course races, including during the trip to Circuit of the Americas.
Suarez had one of the best cars in the field during the second-ever Cup Series race at the Texas road course. He started second overall and led the first 15 laps before winning Stage 1. However, he lost his track position after the stage-break caution, and he was never able to get it back. He ultimately ended the day 24th overall while teammate Ross Chastain won.
The trip to Sonoma Raceway in June was a different experience. Suarez started eighth overall, and he finished the first stage outside of the top 10. He gained position during the break, which led to him finishing the second stage in the fourth position.
Suarez took the lead after the stage-break caution, and he went on to lead a total of 47 laps while battling Michael McDowell, Chris Buescher, and Kevin Harvick. He ultimately crossed the finish line first and won his first career Cup Series race.
“Last year, I truly feel like I had the best car,” Suarez said about the 2022 race at COTA. “This time around, I feel like we have a fast car. Right now, I don’t feel like we have the best car but I feel like we can have one of the best cars. And that’s all I can ask for.
“I don’t feel like I need to have the fastest car to be able to win the race. I feel that if I can have something similar to the fast guys then we can make it happen as a team.”