Two races remain in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) regular season. In less than two weeks, Darlington Raceway returns with its famed Throwback Race, which continues to be one of the most memorable weekends on the MENCS calendar. Stewart-Haas Racing will be honoring its owner, Tony Stewart, with three iconic paint schemes from Stewart’s past championships. Among the drivers sporting Stewart’s old colors, Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez will be hoping to use some of that championship magic to propel themselves in the NASCAR Playoffs. Unfortunately for Suarez and Bowyer, they are most likely vying for the last playoff position should they fail to win one of the remaining two races.
It has been two very different seasons for Daniel Suarez and Clint Bowyer. While Suarez has been a model of consistency all season long with an average start and finish close to 15th, Bowyer has been plagued by DNF’s and a disappointing car. Bowyer’s crash at Michigan two weeks ago was a turn of events for Suarez who managed a fifth place finish and gained considerable ground on Bowyer in the standings. Last weekend’s race at Bristol was a return to normalcy for Bowyer as he finished one position ahead of Suarez , now finds himself two points back of his teammate for 16th in the standings.
Both Stewart-Haas drivers have struggled at Darlington Raceway over the past couple of seasons. Clint Bowyer failed to finish the race in 2017 due to engine problems after only 18 laps. Last year’s race was not much better for #14 driver as he crashed late in the race resulting in a 36th place finish. Daniel Suarez finished 29th in last year’s race and 38th in 2017, but it is important to remember that both of those races were with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Bowyer has continually lamented discussing points as the playoff approaches. Instead, he mentions that the best solution to getting into the playoffs is to just win a race. Unfortunately, Darlington has not been particularly kind to Bowyer over the years. He has not finished in the top 10 since 2006 when he finished a Darlington career best of 9th place. Bowyer has experienced more success at Indianapolis with a career average finish of 14.2, but if he hopes to best Daniel Suarez he must outperform his average finish over the course of the last couple races.
Daniel Suarez does not necessarily need a victory to secure a spot in the NASCAR Playoffs for the first time in his career. Yet, it would be an impressive statement by Suarez in his first year with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). The 27 year-old Mexican driver potentially represents the future of Stewart-Haas Racing. All three of his teammates are over the age of 35 years-old with Bowyer and Harvick being in their 40s. Perhaps this was the reason why Tony Stewart felt that it was worth giving Daniel Suarez a second chance following his unceremonious departure from Joe Gibbs Racing.
Even though Suarez is in his first season with SHR, the pressure is surely on Suarez to make the playoffs. Kurt Busch, who drove the #41 prior to Suarez, was incredibly successful making the NASCAR Playoffs in each year he was with the team. Bowyer is an experienced driver who has amassed over 13 seasons in NASCAR, while Suarez is striving to stay in the sport for 2020. Drivers like Matt Dibenedetto are in the waiting for any slip ups from drivers in precarious situations about their spot on the team. Suarez can not let this happen, and regardless of whether he wins a race in 2019, making the playoffs must be mandatory to ease any uncertainty about his future.
Stewart-Haas Racing would ideally want all four of its drivers in the playoffs, but it is increasingly likely that only three will be able to qualify. Perhaps with a stroke of luck, both Bowyer and Suarez can sneak into the playoffs. With so few races remaining in the season, the teammates have no choice but to battle each other for points. A win seems less likely at Darlington and Indianapolis for the pair, however it is plausible that they will be going toe-toe for the same positions on track over the coming weeks. The battle features a young driver fighting to prove that he is worthy of the #41 drive for 2020 against a seasoned veteran looking to make some noise in the NASCAR’s postseason. It will be a true test of grit, determination, and skill to beat the other to remain in contention for the NASCAR Championship.