12 Questions with Daniel Suarez

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Daniel Suarez of Joe Gibbs Racing. I spoke with Suarez at Texas Motor Speedway.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I really feel like you need to have some natural ability, but at this point of the sport — in the Xfinity Series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series — I feel like most of the drivers have the same ability and it all depends on how hard the team and the driver work for every single race.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

It’s hard to answer that question. I’m just trying to make my way into the sport and trying to be successful. Those are great names of the sport and they’re actually names I grew up looking at. For me, it would be very good if, someday, fans of these guys started to support me.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

For myself, it’s just staying away from family for that long. My family is not in North Carolina or in the United States. And with the schedule we have, it’s difficult to travel every week to Mexico to see my family. That’s maybe one of the toughest parts.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Yes. Sure, no problem. Actually, I like that. Just 30 minutes ago, I saw a kid walking from the parking lot and he had a Suarez T-shirt. I stopped and signed his shirt. So I like that a lot.

What was his reaction?

He was scared at the beginning, but he was kind of surprised. I just like doing those kind of things.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I really feel like NASCAR has got everything covered pretty well. I don’t know, maybe seven championships for Jimmie Johnson? That’s a pretty big deal. I’m not sure if someone is going to get that done again or (win) five consecutive championships. I grew up watching a lot of that. I feel like it got a lot of coverage — that’s not the right answer to the question — but it’s a pretty big deal for me.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Kyle Busch.

There’s a thing there with you where you’re always asking him for help.

Yeah. There is always something. Everyone on my team has been very good, but Kyle has been very good to me. We’ve spent some good time together. The last couple weeks, we’ve been working out on Tuesdays. That’s been kind of fun, working out with him.

Does he always text you back?

He texts me back, and if for some reason he doesn’t, I call him. (Laughs)

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

I think most of the race car drivers have a good attitude and a good personality. We’re always having fun and enjoying this. We do this every weekend. If you don’t enjoy this and have fun with interviews and stuff, you’re going to get tired of it. So I feel like we are (entertainers), yes.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I think (of) respect. I read somewhere this week where drivers are like elephants — we never forget what happened. And that’s very, very true. I still remember every single person who hit me when we were racing go-karts, and I hit them back the next week. So I know who races me clean and I know who races me with respect and I know who races me aggressively all the time — and I race them back the same way.

So have you ever flipped the middle finger?

Uh, yes. I don’t remember who it was last year, but I did it a couple times.

9. You just touched on this a big, but some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Yes, that’s what I mean with respect. Sometimes you’re running fifth and you’re slower than the guy in sixth, but he can’t pass you. You have to just try to help him a little bit and maybe next weekend or maybe later in the race, you’re going to be better than that guy and he won’t give you a hard time to get that position. I feel like how you race people is how they’re going to race you.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

Carlos Slim. He’s a great guy and a good friend. I think my first dinner with him was when I was maybe 17 or 18 years old — I was never so scared. But now we’re good friends.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

Sometimes just to be more patient. I’m very hard on myself and I push myself very hard, and when the results are not coming together, I just get mad to myself — and that’s not a good thing. Sometimes you just have to move forward instead of getting stuck a little bit. Maybe that’s something I have to improve.

12. The last interview was with Kasey Kahne. He wanted to know how living in North Carolina compares to living in Mexico and how you’ve adjusted.

It’s really different. In the beginning, my first couple years living in the U.S., it was very tough. I didn’t have money, I didn’t have family, I didn’t have friends, I didn’t speak the language. It was tough, but I had a dream in my head, and I wanted to work so hard for it. Luckily, it worked out well.

I think living away from family and everyone you grew up hanging out with and living around, that’s difficult. But you just start again and start making friends. Now in racing, I don’t have a lot of time to be in North Carolina — just a few days a week.

It’s been a big challenge, but right now, honestly, if you asked me, “Daniel, would you move back to Mexico?” I will say no. I prefer to stay in North Carolina, I love North Carolina and hopefully I can bring my family more often.

Do you have a question for the next interview?

As race car drivers, we’re always competing against each other. If a driver that is competitive asks you for advice, would you tell that driver everything, 100 percent? How much are you going to help that driver out to be successful on the racetrack? Because eventually, maybe he can beat you out.

This 12 Questions interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race in June, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!

12 Questions with Kasey Kahne

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Kasey Kahne of Hendrick Motorsports. I spoke to Kahne at Texas Motor Speedway.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

When I was younger, it was both, because my dad always was on me to learn about the cars and work on the cars. But from the first time I got on a four-wheeler, a car or whatever, I felt like I knew what I was doing — and that was nice. So I’d say I had a little bit of ability driving, but I’ve always had to work at it. Today, I’d say I work way harder than (use) ability, it feel likes at times, so it’s just tough. Racing’s tough. It’s always changing, so you can’t just drive. You have to be aware of a lot of other things if you want to go fast.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

Carl may come back; you’ll never know. But the other guys are doing other things that they’re enjoying, so that’s pretty cool. I feel like I probably have some of their fans — we probably have fans that are more of a Tony Stewart fan than my fan but they probably still like me a little bit because of our backgrounds. Same with Jeff Gordon, and then being Jeff’s teammate.

Those guys have always been my favorite drivers growing up because I enjoyed the way that they got to NASCAR and then what they’ve done along the way and in NASCAR and how dominant they were at times. So those have been some of favorites.

But I think just doing some of the same things and having some of the same passions for racing would maybe be able to get some of those fans on our side.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

The hardest part of my job away from the racetrack right now is probably the schedule. I’m trying to get everything in thoroughly and do a good job at the things I need to do racing-wise (and) sponsor-wise each week, making sure everybody’s happy.

And then there’s also doing my things that I enjoy that I feel helps me in the car — which is working out and putting in the time and effort of reading the notes and trying to be prepared, watching the videos and things to be prepared for when you get to the next track. And then working all that together with taking care of my son, Tanner.

So, doing all those things together, scheduling and giving each one of them plenty of time and then having the most time going to Tanner would probably be one of the tougher things we do.

It looks like Tanner is a really happy kid on social media and I enjoy following him. Is he loving life?

He’s loving life, and it’s crazy because he’s super happy. He probably gets a lot of that from his mom (Sam Sheets) because she’s really happy. He’s excited, he’s happy, he’s a mover right now and he has tons of energy.

We’ll hang out (and) he’ll stay up all night if I let him. But as soon as it’s time for bed and I tell him, he knows because it’s later than when he usually stays up. At night, I say, “Hey, are you ready for bed, bud?” It takes him a second, but then he heads to his bedroom, so that’s pretty good for a 17-month-old that has a ton of energy and is a really happy little boy.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Yeah. I’ve never really minded that. I’ve always (signed) autographs or taken a picture. Sometimes like right in the middle of eating your main meal is probably not the right time; for one, you’re hungry, so that’s why you’re there and you can’t wait to get down whatever’s in front of you.

And for two, in my opinion, eating food and shaking hands is kind of dirty in a way.

That is gross.

That’s kind of gross. That’s what gets me.

But prior to a meal and as soon as you’re done, whether you’re having a drink or sitting there relaxing or leaving a restaurant, those times are really good times and it’s nice to do a picture or sign something if you run into a fan.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I screwed up and forgot to ask this question and didn’t realize it until after the interview. My bad!

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

It’s actually Dale Jr. Yesterday we were going back and forth. Jimmie was also on there and Chase, but Dale was doing most of the texting. We were just working on team stuff over the weekend.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

I think our job can definitely be entertaining. I think there’s times when it can be, but other times maybe not so much. I wouldn’t say that an actual driver is a whole lot of an entertainer. But I think maybe the sport and what we have going on at certain tracks can definitely be entertaining for sure.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I hate using it. I used it more when I was younger, and it’s truthfully pretty dumb when you use it. I feel bad the next week. I probably used it once this year and was mad because (of) whatever happened. Then you kind of feel like, “Man, why did you do that? What good did you get out of it? What point did you get across?” It was nothing. You probably just made the other guy mad and you (feel) the same. I got flipped off plenty of times, but I try not to do it too much anymore. I’ve kind of grown out of that.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Absolutely. You know that just kind of builds up. A lot of it, the list kind of goes away and you forget about it and as soon as that person either does you wrong or does you good again, it comes right back and you instantly remember. As quick as it’s happening, you remember the past — good or bad.

You don’t think about the list daily, but if you have another deal with that guy, it comes back and you remember every single time you had a problem and why and what and so on. That list is never-ending on both ends.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

Probably Blake Shelton. And that was with Clint (Bowyer). We were at the Super Bowl and we had Blake Shelton. Clint and Blake are good friends, I think. So having dinner with those guys, with Blake, that was a blast. Good times.

That had to be a pretty fun dinner.

It was a very fun dinner, very entertaining at that point.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

I always just wish I was a little bit happier. I enjoy racing and I’m really happy with Tanner, but there’s a lot times throughout the week where I’m just kind of getting through the day, you know? It’d be nice to just walk around a little happier daily.

12. Speaking of getting through the day, you post workout videos, and that was something Clint Bowyer was interested in asking about. So, he wants to know: Why do you post workout videos on social media?

I don’t know why he cares so much about this. He’s had this talk with me already. He’s texted me. (Laughs) I think he thinks I’m trying to be like Danica or something, is what he was saying.

But I just think it’s just working hard and enjoying. I enjoy working out. I really do. I love it. And when you’re sweating and working hard, you want to show some of your fans that you’re getting after it. You’re doing things to try and improve yourself and be better. I think Clint knows that.

That’s probably what it is, because he doesn’t work out, so he’s probably like, “Man, you’re making me look bad. Stop posting these workout videos!”

That is definitely what it is. But, truthfully, every time I see Clint go run, and he’ll do it like twice a year, he’ll just take off out of the bus garage and then he comes back 20 minutes later and he did two and a half or three miles. And he doesn’t honestly look bad for not running that often, so he can probably do whatever he wanted and get in good shape in a hurry, I’d imagine. But he’s in good race shape, so that’s really all that matters.

The next interview I’m doing is with Daniel Suarez. Do you have a question for him?

I like Daniel a lot. We all know it’s a big step, what he’s doing this year. He’s working hard to do it right and do a good job with it, so that’s really cool.

I’m guessing he lives in North Carolina, close to Gibbs maybe? I really don’t know, but how does he enjoy living wherever he lives? Does he enjoy it as much as where he grew up (in Mexico)? I’m from Enumclaw (Wash.) and I live in North Carolina now and I loved where I grew up, and I really enjoy where I live now. I just want to get his opinion because his (situation) is from a lot further away than Enumclaw.

This 12 Questions interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race in June, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!

The Top Five: Breaking down the Phoenix race

Each week, I’ll give some race analysis through a post called the Top Five — notable storylines from the just-completed event. This week: Phoenix Raceway.

Newman!

Well, how about THAT? Luke Lambert’s strategy call — which seemed like a total Hail Mary to most of us — actually worked, and Ryan Newman ended up with his first victory since Indianapolis in 2013. That’s 127 races ago! Heck, Richard Childress Racing hadn’t won a race since Kevin Harvick left the team for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Did anyone see this coming? Certainly not me.

So was Lambert making an educated guess or just taking a total gamble? Well, Lambert had looked at the data — and Newman was the best car on long runs throughout the race. That gave him faith the tires would hold up enough to give Newman a shot.

“I figured our best opportunity to win the race was to put the car out front and see if Ryan could make it wide enough,” Lambert said. “I can’t say I felt confident we would win the race, but I felt confident we’d at least have a shot. And I felt we wouldn’t be able to do anything else to give ourselves that opportunity.”

Inside the car, Newman recalled the sketchy restart last fall here — and realized there was a chance he could get taken out if he wasn’t careful. So his first priority was to just get a good enough start to have some clearance going into Turn 1 — and deal with whoever was behind him after that.

But with Kyle Larson in his mirror on fresh tires, Newman thought he might be toast. The No. 31 car, though, was stronger than expected (after all, it had been running top 10 prior to the strategy call).

“We had a good car, and it was the first time all day we put some clean air on it,” Newman said. “It was just a matter of putting those things together and showing y’all what we had.”

Larson the amazing

Kyle Larson is the latest example of the 2.5-year rule for new Cup drivers. Basically, young drivers either figure out how to find speed within the first 2.5 years of their career — or perhaps never get any better.

Everything seemed to click for Larson midway through last year, and he’s been a much more reliable contender ever since. These days, he’s one of the best drivers in the series — and the points leader!

Larson has now finished second in four straight non-plate races. That’s Homestead, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

And despite getting close to wins, Larson said the runner-up results aren’t getting tiresome — yet.

“I’m sure if I ran second for the next eight weeks, yeah, it’s probably going to grow old,” Larson said. “But it’s so cool to be one of the fastest cars every week. … I just hope we can continue to work hard, be consistent, be mistake‑free on pit road and on the racetrack. If we can just keep doing that, the wins are going to come.”

Everything isn’t great

When Kyle Busch’s team informed him Joey Logano’s tire had blown with five laps to go, Busch said, “Trust me — I know.”

Afterward, Busch was asked by KickinTheTires.net why he said that.

“I knew there was a going to be a tire blown because we haven’t made it past 44 laps in any run today without one being blown, right?” Busch said, practically biting his lip to stop himself from saying more.

It had to be a bitter pill for Busch to swallow — his recent nemeses Joey Logano and Goodyear essentially combined to cost him a race (although it wasn’t either of their faults directly; Logano melted a bead with excessive brake heat).

But just when it looked like Busch would go from puncher to victor in a week, it was he who ended up getting socked in the gut once again.

That’s the brakes for Logano, Dale Jr.

Two of the recent Phoenix race winners — Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. — were expected to be contenders on Sunday. But that never materialized.

Logano couldn’t recover from a speeding penalty after he developed brake problems, eventually blowing a tire that caused the final caution. And Earnhardt had similar issues with his brakes, meaning he had to tiptoe around the track.

“The car just got to where I couldn’t get into the corner the way I needed it to,” Earnhardt said. “The last half of the race, the brake pedal was just almost to the floor. A couple of times it was on the floor going into the corner — pretty scary.

“The whole last 50 to 60 laps, I was pumping the brakes on all the straightaways to keep the pedal up so I would have some brakes for the corner and lifting really early. We just couldn’t run it hard enough to get up there and do anything with it.”

Toyota young guns shine

Despite seeing Busch’s win chances vanish, it wasn’t all bad for Toyota. The manufacturer’s two rookies — Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones — both got their first career top-10 finishes after different strategy calls on the last pit stop.

Suarez finished seventh after taking two tires and Jones finished eighth after taking four. Regardless of how they got there,  the results were much-needed confidence for Suarez and validation for Jones’ consistently speed to start the year.

“We didn’t have the speed, and the communication wasn’t great,” Suarez said of the first couple weeks. “We’ve been working hard trying to build chemistry, communication, and we have for sure been getting better.”

That communication was key to improving the car while also gaining track position on Sunday.

And Jones had to power through feeling sick, as he received two bags of IV fluids Saturday night after the Xfinity race.

“We’re going to have ups and downs, good weeks and bad weeks from here on out, but this is definitely a good week and one we can soak up for a minute,” he said.

 

Atlanta makes Carl Edwards miss racing, but no comeback plans

Carl Edwards was back at a NASCAR track on Friday for the second time this year, on hand at Atlanta Motor Speedway at the request of his successor in the No. 19 car, Daniel Suarez.

Edwards said he watched the first part of the Daytona 500, but skipped the rest once the field started wrecking. He didn’t miss that part of it, he said.

But standing in the infield of an Atlanta track where he won three times, Edwards said, “I miss driving” — at least for a day.

Still, Edwards said he was “going to try really hard to stick to my plan, step away and make sure I get my perspective right.” He said he was “certain” he wouldn’t take any full-time offers at this time and was only in attendance because he was asked.

“I’m really, really grateful to have made the decision I made,” he said. “I’m having a lot of fun. Everybody calls it retirement; I haven’t called it retirement officially.

“I admit I brought my helmet and driver suit today, just in case somebody needed something. But I’m having a lot of fun. I’m just so grateful to Coach (Gibbs) and everybody for letting me make the decision I made. But it is cool coming back here and seeing everybody.”

Edwards also attended the Phoenix test to help Suarez in January and openly addressed rumors about his departure.  He took another shot at them Friday.

“I could have messed with you guys somehow on the rumors and stuff,” he said. “Carlos (Slim) pays me a million dollars a race to come hang out. Penske wants me to spy on the Toyotas.”

He chuckled.

“No, it’s pretty cool just to be here (because) they want me here,” he said.