NASCAR driver Daniel Suárez will have one goal in mind when he makes his way to Talladega Superspeedway for the GEICO 500 on April 28. It’s simply to take his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Ford to Gatorade Victory Lane. But, on Thursday, he had another goal in view when he visited with the Atlanta United Major League Soccer (MLS) team.
Suárez, who is still looking for his first career win in NASCAR’s premier series that could perhaps come at Talladega in a couple of weeks, made a pit stop at the Atlanta United Training Ground, home of the 2018 MLS Cup Champions. While there, he got a little taste of how the champs prep for their matches, then showed them a little about turning left.
Suárez made the trek to the Atlanta area, less than two hours east of NASCAR’s biggest track. The Monterrey, Mexico native is an avid fan of soccer, and with his love of racing, he was right in his wheelhouse during his visit to the Peach State.
As part of the day, Suárez joined the squad to try and “net” a win in an accuracy competition where the objective was to shoot straight through the center of a specially branded “Talladega Superspeedway” tire. Although he didn’t hit the middle of the target in what looked like “penalty kicks,” he was impressive and hit the rubber. After all, as a youngster, he was a “pretty good” soccer player but eventually chose to go the racing route.
“Back when I was a kid in Mexico, I played a lot of soccer, it was just what we did,” said Suárez, who, in four starts at Talladega, has a best finish of 10th. “Who knows what could have happened if I had kept playing regularly back then, but it came to a point I had to choose either soccer or racing.
“Today, I was a little rusty, because I hadn’t been on a soccer field in a long time, but it was so much fun. These guys are pros and it’s been great to see how they prepare with their training – a lot like how race teams prepare and you can see similarities.”
After practicing some drills on the pitch, Suárez and some of the players hit the “track” for a different kind of racing – Adult Big Wheels style. It wasn’t child’s play in the heated two-lap dash to the finish, where Suárez’s drafting and side-by-side racing experience slingshot him to victory.
“No matter if you are in a race car or on one of those Big Wheels, I can tell you no one wants to lose,” said Suárez, who handed out special Coca-Cola “Daniel’s Amigos” T-shirts to players. “At Talladega in a few weeks we will be going wide open at 200 mph with lots of horsepower, but today we were wide open with pedal power. Again, it was fun. Made a lot of friends today with the players and some are going to come watch the race at Talladega.”
Suárez is coming off his best performance so far this season, posting a third-place finish last week and 10th the week prior. He is inching ever so close to claiming his first career victory. If he doesn’t pull off the feat before he takes to the biggest track in NASCAR, he could become the 12th driver in Talladega’s 50-year history to capture their first career triumph at the 2.66-mile facility.
As a rookie in NASCAR’s premier series at Talladega’s fall 2017 race, he looked to be in prime position for the victory as he and Chase Elliott battled for the lead in the final laps, but the two touched, igniting a multi-car pileup and resulting in a 15th-place finish.
“I am finally in a place where I am extremely confident at Talladega,” admitted Suárez, the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champ. “I enjoy it today unlike a few years ago. I feel like I am a good racer now at a place like Talladega – maybe not the best – but good and in contention. I am more aggressive, and not letting others run over me. We ran well at Daytona in February all day, and my team has a nice history at Talladega. I can’t wait to get back.”
Last year, his No. 41 team’s Ford sat on the pole for the fall TSS event and dominated the race before running out of gas while in the lead on the final lap with Kurt Busch behind the wheel. Busch also finished second in last year’s GEICO 500. And, another positive is that Ford has been dominate at the mammoth facility recently, winning its seventh consecutive victory last fall.
The GEICO 500 will be the anchor event for tripleheader weekend (April 26-28), kicking off on Friday, April 26, with the General Tire 200 for the ARCA Menards Series and continuing on Saturday, April 27, with the MoneyLion 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series event. Sunday’s GEICO 500 gets the green flag at 1 p.m. CDT. For tickets or more information, visitwww.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 855-518-RACE (7223).