How Sonoma Was a Win For Trackhouse's Foundation

Daniel Suarez and Travis Mack were the perfect compliments for the 99 team.

Share

Top
hero image for How Sonoma Was a Win For Trackhouse's Foundation

This was a win for the foundation of Trackhouse.

Even with Ross Chastain, Phil Surgen an the No. 1 team emerging as legitimate championship threats within the organization, none of this would have been possible without the momentum established by Daniel Suárez, Travis Mack and the second-year No. 99 team.

It’s easy to forget that before Chastain broke through for the first victory for the team owned by Justin Marks and Pitbull, that it was actually Suárez that had positioned himself to win by dominating the first stage from the outside pole before a flat tire eliminated his chance to win the race.

"At COTA, it just felt special," Suárez said. "At COTA we were the car to beat, we were the best car. Unfortunately, my car had issues. I made sure to radio in the middle of the race (that) if I can't win the race, I want my teammate to win the race.

"I felt he was probably a good second-best car. He was able to win the race. I was able to dominate the first stage with a car that was a rocket."

All of that is to say that maybe history should have remembered the flagship No. 99 team as the one that won first, not that anyone within the organization is keeping count. But for all the rivalries, wins and dialogue surrounding the No. 1 team, Suárez sometimes fell out of sight and out of mind.

It felt all too familiar for Suárez, who unexpectedly ended up replacing the retiring Carl Edwards at Joe Gibbs Racing and was arguably prematurely pushed out of Stewart-Haas Racing and was forced to race with underfunded Gaunt Brothers Racing in 2020.

Suárez failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 that year.

It could have been the beginning of the end for Suárez and his dreams of winning at the highest level, but Marks was taking notes in the background.

"I have almost never met a more determined, focused, hard-working race car driver in my 20 years in this sport," Marks said. "Every single morning, he wakes up and says, 'I am going to be the best version of myself I can be today and I’m going to do all the work I can possibly do today to win this race this weekend.'

"I think Travis will say the same thing. It’s amazing how consistent he is, how that continues, that fire continues to burn so bright even after stringing numerous tough races in a row together. Tough month, (tough) past year. He’s just very, very impressive in that regard."

Last season was tough too, the No. 99 team scoring just four top-10s in a lame duck campaign with an outgoing car. But the point was to lay that foundation in advance of the Next Gen and an expanded commitment from Chevrolet.

Mack never had a doubt.

"Even last year, having the conversations with Justin, I think I was number two hire at Trackhouse, it was very exciting," he said.

Ty Norris was the first hire.

"The first time I met with him, I was doubting if I should leave Hendrick (Motorsports) and what I needed to do," Mack said. "I was really comfortable at JR Motorsports. After I met with Justin, talked to him on the phone, I was so confident in what he was building.

"I told him, ‘You just give us the tools and you do you and I’m going to build us a great race team. We’re going to go to Daytona and get the pole. That’s how confident I was. I told him that. I think he believed in that. We believe in each other."

They didn’t get the pole that weekend, but they’ve frequently contended for wins, even in races in which the results don’t show it.

Suárez didn’t grow up with a family of means. Not enough is said about how much Suárez advanced through the ranks purely on merit -- even after earning the financial backing of Carlos Slim Domit. That Suárez even made it to the Cup Series on merit, as an Xfinity Series champion, gave him continued conviction that it would work out at this level too.

"I knew that it's important to remember that if I was able to come all the way here, I wasn't going to give up here," Suárez said. "My confidence was high. But obviously knowing that I haven't won yet, there is a little bit of doubt. But I knew that I was fast. I knew that I could race with them, with the guys that are winning. But I haven't (got) that first victory.

"I told my team, you know, the last five weeks we have had very fast race cars, but things happen. The jack broke last week. A few weeks ago, we broke. In Charlotte we were the fastest car and we were missing something on pit road every single time. It was hard to stay on track.

"But at the end my team, everyone, stayed together. We keep pushing. I told them that bad luck doesn't last forever, and tough people do. We keep working very hard and here we are."

That is a reflection of the time they spent together last season. In Suarez, Mack saw an extension of himself.

"First time I met Daniel, I think a lot of crew chiefs in the past kind of doubted his capabilities," Mack said. "Around the garage you hear he shouldn’t be in the ride, this or that.

"Once I met with him, I could see the drive in his face, in his eyes. Once we started becoming friends and talking to each other, I could see how hard he was working. He wanted this so bad. I was the same way."

Mack had heard this narrative before.

"Coming up as a crew chief, people doubted me being a crew chief," Mack said. "Not being an engineer, coming up through the mechanic, car chief role, there’s not many of us that has done that in the Cup Series. So people doubted me. They doubted him.

"They put us together and I think we’re a great team."

The No. 99 team is the foundation of the entire company. It’s the foundation Chastain and Surgen are building upon.

As has frequently been the case this season, Marks has proven to be a prognosticator of sorts with the people he believed in, invested in, and they’re rewarding it week after week.

"Daniel had a chip on his shoulder," Marks said. "He wanted to prove to the world he belonged in the Cup Series. 2020 was a difficult year for him. He checked all the boxes for us and I knew he had a tremendous amount of potential.

"Travis is a big part of that. He’s been a big believer in this project. It’s really nice to see all that work over the last couple of years be at a place where everybody is rewarded for it."