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Daniel Suárez Wins at Atlanta In Thrilling Photo Finish

Daniel Suárez snapped a 57-race winless streak when he captured the checkered flag at Atlanta on Sunday night. (Photo: Ricky Martinez | The Podium Finish)

HAMPTON, Ga. — All the postulating and questions on Daniel Suárez getting the job done in the NASCAR Cup Series can come to a screeching halt.

For the past 18 months, Suárez has been tasked with scoring his second career win in stock car’s premier division. After all, he was driving for a thriving organization in Trackhouse Racing.

Admittedly, the 32-year-old Monterrey, Mexico, native had a disappointing campaign in 2023, tallying only three top fives and 10 top 10s to place 19th in the championship standings. In comparison, the 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion won at Sonoma Raceway, logged six total top fives and 13 top 10 results, good enough to finish 10th in the rankings in 2022.

Heading into Sunday’s crash-laden Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Suárez ranked 25th in points after crashing out of the 66th DAYTONA 500, placing 34th. A middling 23rd place qualifying effort was not too concerning considering the draft-style racing at the 1.54-mile quad-oval that promoted passing opportunities.

Once the 260-lap Ambetter Health 400 was underway on Sunday, the hits were immediately felt on Lap 2 in Turn 1. A 16-car accident collected Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Noah Gragson, Josh Williams, Christopher Bell, Harrison Burton, Bubba Wallace, Daniel Hemric, John Hunter Nemechek, Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick, Alex Bowman, Justin Haley, Ty Gibbs, Carson Hocevar and Suárez.

Compared to the majority of those involved in the first corner fracas, Suárez emerged with inconsequential damage to his No. 99 Freeway Insurance Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The same could not be said for Williams and Gragson, who both bowed out of the race in the early going.

Michael McDowell was the top dog in Stage 1 at Atlanta. (Photo: Joshua White | The Podium Finish)

As Suárez slowly worked his way up the leaderboard, placing 19th in Stage 1, it looked like the Ford vs. Chevrolet show at the front of the pack. Michael McDowell, the race’s pole sitter, bested Ryan Blaney, a fellow Ford Performance racer, to the stripe with Chevrolet’s Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch rounding out the top five.

Stage 2 offered the cleanest segment of action at the 64-year-old speed palace as drivers weaved their way up and down the leaderboard. Namely, Todd Gilliland, Joey Logano, McDowell and Kyle Larson made their presence known at the front of the field.

On the final lap of Stage 2, Austin Cindric led the way ahead of a charging Larson before a Turn 2 accident involving Joey Logano, Chris Buescher and Denny Hamlin ended the remaining green flag action. Cindric netted 10 stage points and the Playoff point from his Stage 2 win, besting Larson, Blaney, Suárez and Martin Truex Jr.

All things considered, Stage 3 offered the usual spins from some late race aggression with Kaz Grala and Elliott getting collected in their own spin cycles respectively on Laps 176 and 200.

With 41 laps remaining, Larson, running inside the top 10, was collected in a Turn 4 crash when Brad Keselowski spun. Larson, having nowhere to go, got pushed into the No. 6 car by Corey LaJoie’s No. 7 ride, heavily damaging their cars.

Although LaJoie carried on and placed 13th, Larson and Keselowski were unable to continue with heavily wrecked racecars.

Within the final 11 laps of the race, a three-car crash eliminated Josh Berry while damaging Elliott and Hocevar’s machines on the backstretch, resulting in a red flag lasting 11 minutes and 25 seconds.

Following the cleanup, Suárez led the Lap 256 restart, determined to snap his drought. A lap later, Blaney expertly snookered Suárez for the lead and it appeared that the defending Cup champion was ready to win his first race of 2024.

On the final lap of the race, Blaney led the pack before Busch and Suárez darted to his outside in Turns 3 and 4. The trio were unwilling to back down in a checkers or wreckers dash to the finish.

It was a matter of 0.003 seconds between Daniel Suárez and Ryan Blaney at the stripe. (Photo: Ricky Martinez | The Podium Finish)

At the line, Suárez defeated Blaney by 0.003 seconds and Busch by just 0.007 seconds. It was the third-closest finish in NASCAR Cup Series history since the advent of electronic scoring in 1993.

The typically mild mannered Suárez was ecstatic about the end of his winless streak and the excitement with his Atlanta victory.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Suárez said. “This team did an amazing job all race long. We wrecked on lap two. The guys fixed the car and we were able to make it good again, make it fast again.

“It took some tweaking, but unbelievable. Freeway Insurance, Trackhouse, Chevrolet, and all the people that believed in us from day one – it’s unbelievable to do this in this fashion.”

Suárez reflected on the strength of the Team Penske Ford Mustang Dark Horse entries throughout the race. He realized it would take a village to best the Blue Ovals on this occasion.

“Yeah, those four Penskes were pretty strong,” he said. “We knew that it was going to take something special today to beat them. But at the start/finish line, Kyle Busch was doing a hell of a job pushing me and when it mattered, he tried to go for the win.

“I felt like if Kyle wasn’t going to go for the win, I wasn’t going to win it. That really helped me to go three-wide and to the top, so it was amazing. You have no idea how happy I am right now.”

Despite coming up short in a photo finish, Blaney was not too disappointed about his runner-up result. If anything, there was some excitement at the finish and he nearly pulled it off, even if he was not in the most advantageous position on the final lap.

“Yeah. I’m sure it was close,” Blaney said. “I’ve won some by a few inches and lost some by a few inches. It was a fun night, fun racing. I didn’t think they’d get that big of a run on me. I thought I did a good job of getting close off of two to where I kind of had some of their energy.

“I guess they just got hooked up super good and got a massive run, and I can’t block both lanes. It was fun racing, but just a couple inches short. I’m happy for Daniel, though. That was fun racing him and Kyle. That was fun.”

It is perhaps the most bittersweet podium for Kyle Busch as he lost to Daniel Suárez by just 0.007 seconds at Atlanta. (Photo: Joshua White | The Podium Finish)

Busch, the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, nearly made it a twofer at Atlanta after winning Saturday’s NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series Fr8 208 race. Upon reflection, the Las Vegas native considered what could have been in the Peach State.

“Yeah, it’s frustrating,” Busch said. “I mean, I hate it because I felt like we were one of the top five cars today and had a good shot. The 12 was deservingly one of the faster cars, and with all the carnage, it took out some other guys early.

“I just got a little too far ahead of the No. 99 and he got a good side draft through the corner. I didn’t think the outside would prevail, but with the run down the frontstretch and the side draft, that is what hurt us. I was looking at the No. 12 and I swore I was ahead of the No. 12 at the line, but obviously my eyes are bad. Need more powerful glasses, I guess.”

Undoubtedly, Suárez leaves Atlanta Motor Speedway beaming with a smile as bright as his No. 99 car. Locking a Playoffs spot just two races into the 2024 season, the Drive for Diversity alum knows there is more where that came from for his Trackhouse Racing crew.

Daniel Suárez captured the checkered flag at Atlanta in dramatic style. (Photo: Joshua White | The Podium Finish)

“We have done a lot of work on this race team to make it better and to keep moving forward,” Suárez acknowledged. “This is just the beginning of something amazing that we are going to go through together.”

Stage 1 Top 10 Finishers
  1. Michael McDowell
  2. Ryan Blaney
  3. Ross Chastain
  4. Kyle Larson
  5. Kyle Busch
  6. Martin Truex Jr.
  7. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  8. Bubba Wallace
  9. William Byron
  10. Todd Gilliland
Stage 2 Top 10 Finishers
  1. Austin Cindric
  2. Kyle Larson
  3. Ryan Blaney
  4. Daniel Suárez
  5. Martin Truex Jr.
  6. Todd Gilliland
  7. Brad Keselowski
  8. Harrison Burton
  9. Chase Briscoe
  10. Chase Elliott
Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway Race Results
Finish Start Car No. Driver Sponsor/Make Status
1 23 99 Daniel Suárez Freeway Insurance Chevrolet Running
2 6 12 Ryan Blaney BodyArmor Zero Sugar Ford Running
3 3 8 Kyle Busch Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen Chevrolet Running
4 8 2 Austin Cindric Menards/Knauf Insulation Ford Running
5 18 23 Bubba Wallace MoneyLion Toyota Running
6 27 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Kroger/Blue Buffalo Chevrolet Running
7 21 1 Ross Chastain Moose Fraternity Chevrolet Running
8 1 34 Michael McDowell Benebone Ford Running
9 7 17 Chris Buescher Ford Running
10 26 54 Ty Gibbs Mosnter Energy Toyota Running
11 16 21 Harrison Burton Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Running
12 12 19 Martin Truex Jr. Bass Pro Shops Toyota Running
13 32 7 Corey LaJoie Celsius Chevrolet Running
14 33 15 Kaz Grala (R) N29 Capital Partners Ford Running
15 28 9 Chase Elliott Hooters Chevrolet Running
16 20 41 Ryan Preece Ford Running
17 11 24 William Byron Raptor High Heat Chevrolet Running
18 26 31 Daniel Hemric Cirkul Chevrolet Running
19 35 77 Carson Hocevar (R) Premier Security Chevrolet Running
20 31 51 Justin Haley Grady Medical Centers Ford Running
21 34 42 John Hunter Nemechek Dollar General Toyota Running
22 10 3 Austin Dillon BREZTRI Chevrolet Running
23 13 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Toyota Running
24 36 78 BJ McLeod (i) Live Fast Motorsports Chevrolet Running
25 37 43 Erik Jones AdventHealth Toyota Running
26 4 38 Todd Gilliland Georgia Peanuts Ford Running
27 17 48 Alex Bowman Ally Chevrolet Running
28 2 22 Joey Logano Shell Pennzoil Ford Running
29 14 4 Josh Berry (R) Harrison’s Ford Accident
30 19 45 Tyler Reddick Xfinity Mobile Toyota Running
31 9 14 Chase Briscoe Ford Accident
32 5 5 Kyle Larson Chevrolet Accident
33 24 6 Brad Keselowski King’s Hawaiian Ford Accident
34 22 20 Christopher Bell DEWALT Toyota Accident
35 29 71 Zane Smith (R) City of Refuge Chevrolet DVP
36 15 10 Noah Gragson Black Rifle Coffee/Ranger Boats Ford Accident
37 30 16 Josh Williams (i) Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet Accident

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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