Daniel Suarez won his way into the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Then he almost won the thing.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver won the second 20-lap stage of the preceding Monster Energy Open, clinching his spot in the main event. From there, he proved he belonged, standing toe-to-toe — and fender-to-fender — with the likes of eventual race winner Kevin Harvick and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin.
Suarez, who finished second to Harvick, restarted on the inside lane of NASCAR Overtime in the final 10-lap stage and appeared to sneak past Harvick with a push from Hamlin. Suarez, though, never got clear and could not jump up in front of Harvick, who eventually powered around Suarez on the outside with a healthy push from Joey Logano.
“I felt like we had a car actually capable of winning the race,” Suarez said. “We were very strong, competitive. … I needed a little bit more (at the end). The 11 (of Hamlin) got disconnected with myself a little bit. I tried to side draft the 4 (of Kevin Harvick), but it was just tough. … It hurts to be close and to not get it.”
This was the second consecutive year the sophomore Suarez raced his way into the big show. The Coca-Cola 600 looms next week at Charlotte, followed by a summer stretch that includes two races at 2-mile Michigan, where Suarez earned his first NASCAR national series win in 2016 in the Xfinity Series.
A repeat, but at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level, would clinch a spot in the playoffs and also a spot in next year’s All-Star Race.
“We’ve been racing really well in the All-Star twice already, two times, so that’s not bad,” Suarez said. “It hurts to be close and to not get it.”