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Suarez to make Nationwide debut at Richmond PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, April 24, 2014 8:00 PM

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Daniel Suarez has proven to be a quick learner in a race car, winning in the eighth race of last year’s NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East Tour and finishing third in the final standings.

He has raced out of the gates this season, with two wins and three top-5 finishes in four starts. Now Suarez has parlayed that into a big-time ride.

He will get his first career Nationwide Series start tonight at Richmond International Raceway with Joe Gibbs Racing, and Suarez will have to learn on the job.

“It’s going to be a new experience for me — I’ve never been in a Nationwide car,” Suarez said. “But to be honest, I have a lot of confidence in myself and also in Joe Gibbs Racing. The first point and the most important point is to try to learn about everything and then be competitive. I love to be competitive in everything I drive, even video games.”

A 22-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico, Suarez came through the NASCAR Next program and is a current participant in Drive 4 Diversity. For now, he’s got just this one race with JGR. But he’s confident a good showing tonight could lead to more opportunities.

It will be a busy weekend for Suarez, who races full-time in both the East Series and the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series.

Suarez will run a doubleheader tonight, where the K&N East race is scheduled after the Nationwide event. Then it’s back to Charlotte to catch a flight a Saturday flight to Mexico City to race at the Autodrome on Sunday.

“Is no easy challenge for me, this weekend. I really feel lucky to be in this position,” Suarez added. “Not many drivers have the opportunity to do one race or two races or three races like me this weekend, in the same weekend. That’s kind of cool for me. I think we can learn a lot about this situation. I think that’s a pretty cool opportunity. I’m really looking forward to do something good this weekend.”

JR MOTORSPORTS-YOUTH: JR Motorsports has added another young driver to its stable in 20-year-old Austin Theriault.

Theriault has been hired to drive three Nationwide Series for JRM in the No. 5 Chevrolet. He’ll make his debut next month at Iowa Speedway and also has races scheduled at New Hampshire in July and Kentucky in September.

“Our company is known for putting young talent in cars and giving them a shot on one of NASCAR’s biggest stages and that is what we are giving Austin with this 3-race opportunity,” said Kelley Earnhardt Miller, general manager of JR Motorsports. “This keeps our No. 5 car on the track and it gives Austin the chance to show what he’s got with a lot more eyeballs taking notice.”

JRM goes into tonight’s race at Richmond coming off back-to-back victories with Chase Elliott. The 18-year-old won at Texas and Darlington before last weekend’s off week.

Theriault was the 2012 Maine Vintage Race Car Association’s Driver of the Year. He made his NASCAR K&N Pro Series debut in 2012 after winning the “Maine Young Guns.”

YOUR NAME HERE: Fans will have an opportunity to have their names displayed on Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota during the June 1 race at Dover.

The campaign is a one-of-a-kind fundraiser for the autism community. For a minimum donation of $11 to Autism Speaks, fans’ first names and last initials can be inscribed on a puzzle piece design featured on the No. 11 car during the “FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks” at Dover.

“It’s a great opportunity for the fans and is for a great cause,” said Hamlin. “Autism affects so many people and these donations will help with research and other important things that the Autism Speaks organization does.”

Fans can visit through May 4 for information.

Richmond hoping track access boosts fan experience

RICHMOND, Va. — They are calling it “Track Takeover” at Richmond International Raceway and track President Dennis Bickmeier hopes allowing fans onto the racing surface a few hours before race time on Saturday night will not only improve their experience at the 0.75-mile oval but bring more of them, or bring them back.

“This is a way to give people that access and let them kind of see the sport up close, or a little closer,” Bickmeier said Thursday. “This sport defined access and we’ve got to keep that going.”

At a time when most agree the racing in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series has been better than in several years, tracks are always looking for ways to bring fan support back up to the days when it sold itself.

In those days, Richmond was like most other places, selling out 18 consecutive races.

Richmond has opened the front-stretch before but only for a section off the front stretch. On Saturday night, fans will be able to walk the entire surface, take in live music, tour a NASCAR hauler and pose for pictures at key spots in the track’s history. They also are encouraged to share those pictures on social media, a vehicle the track has used to try and highlight its status as an enjoyable place to visit.

Bickmeier, with a little prompting from Dale Earnhardt Jr., on Twitter, even used that vehicle to land Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III as Saturday night’s honorary starter. Earnhardt suggested RG3 as Grand Marshal, Bickmeier offered honorary starter and Griffin was more than willing.

The idea for Track Takeover came from a more conventional source — a survey the track did with ticket-holders from the past who stopped coming when the economy tanked, ending the sellout streak.

“One of the things that really registered was they said they wanted more to do,” he said. “Ever since we’ve announced it, I’ve been to Martinsville and Darlington leading up to this race, and people are stopping me and saying, ‘Hey, that track thing you’re doing? That’s sounds pretty cool,” adding that while the reaction has been good, he has no idea how many will actually take advantage.

Bickmeier, who met Thursday afternoon with six campers, one of whom he’d been emailing back and forth with over one of her concerns, will be out on the track for the takeover, making sure it’s running smoothly from an operations standpoint, but also interacting with the fans he’s hoping to impress.

He’s also considering sky-diving into the track with the green flag, perhaps in September.

As well, Richard Petty is scheduled to return to the race track this weekend for the first time since the March 25 death of his wife, Lynda.

The 7-time NASCAR champion and Hall-of-Fame driver missed races at Martinsville, Texas and Darlington as he mourned the loss of his wife. The Pettys were together 57 years.

Trent Owens, crew chief for Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola and Petty’s nephew, believes being back at the track in Richmond, Va., will be good for “The King.”

Almirola spent Tuesday with Petty at an appearance in Nashville, Tenn., and found his boss’ spirits to be improved. Like Owens, the driver thinks Petty’s return will be a boost to the organization.


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