Daniel Suarez knew he was on the fast track to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
But this fast?
On Wednesday, the 25-year-old Suarez was named to replace retiring Carl Edwards in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Suarez had planned to defend his NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in 2017, but the Edwards announcement caught Joe Gibbs, Toyota Racing Development and Suarez totally by surprise. The Mexican racer is the first foreign-born champion of a NASCAR national tour and will now get to apply his craft at the highest level of the sport.
"It's my dream, but I did not expect it right now," Suarez said. "I can't wait to get started. I have a lot to learn but I couldn't ask for a better situation. I have the support of a great team around me."
Suarez, a native of Monterrey, Mexico, will make his Cup Series debut next month in the season-opening Daytona 500, racing alongside Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin at the Toyota flagship program. Ordinarily, the departure of a star like Edwards would provide a logistical headache for an organization, but Gibbs is built to weather the storm.
They just recently loaned out Erik Jones to Furniture Row Racing but had the defending Xfinity Series champion on standby. Suarez seemed likely to spend at least one or two more seasons at that level, despite appearing ready for the challenges of racing on Sundays.
Upon learning that Edwards would step away, Gibbs' first phone calls were to Suarez and shared sponsor Arris.
"Once we learned that Carl would not return next season, Daniel was really the obvious choice," Gibbs said. "He is a great fit for our team and our partners. This may be a little bit earlier than we anticipated, but he has earned the opportunity and we are excited for his future.">
Carl Edwards was careful not to use the word retirement when confirming his decision to leave his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup ride with Joe Gibbs Racing on Wednesday. Edwards, 37, said that he ...
Toyota president David Wilson said this was a testament to the driver development program he’s spearheaded alongside Gibbs, Kyle Busch Motorsports and Venturini Motorsports.
"To have two Rookie of the Year contenders in Erik and Daniel this season goes to show you just how seriously we take driver development," Wilson said. "Everyone has worked so hard to get these drivers in the best equipment possible. We don’t take losing Carl lightly, and I feel like this could have hurt any other team to the point that we would probably have to look outside of Toyota to replace him.
"But we had a really soft cushion in Daniel, and I can’t wait to see him at Daytona in the Cup Series for the first time."
Suarez will work with Edwards’ former crew chief, Dave Rogers.
"It’s a dream come true for me," Suarez said. "I started out in Mexico 10 years ago racing in NASCAR, and I know this move won’t be easy but I am ready for the opportunity."
Suarez completed his second Xfinity tour with three wins, 19 top-fives and 27 top-10s. He’s also won in the Camping World Truck Series and K&N Pro Series East.