HOMESTEAD, Fla – We all figured the news would be coming and on Thursday, it was confirmed — Daniel Suarez was out and Cole Custer in for the No. 41 Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see what was coming.
Custer’s dad is a part of SHR. Custer, has proven to be a damn good driver and deserving of a Cup ride. After all, a fourth straight season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series didn’t really make much sense. Custer, was ready now.
Gene Haas commented last year that he’d move Custer up when Custer started winning more races on the NXS level. Well, in 2019, he’s proven that. Heading into this season, Custer had two career NXS victories. This season alone, he has seven.
The problem that was developing was, seats were being shored up on the Cup level for SHR. Kevin Harvick was already under contract for 2020. Then, Aric Almirola agreed to a one-year extension. After that, it was Clint Bowyer’s turn for his one year extension. Finally, it was down to Suarez or Custer for the fourth seat.
Suarez, needed money to return. He was close. Both sides were actively working to achieve this. Unfortunately for Suarez, the decision was met – he’d be out and Custer would be in.
This wasn’t a move though that was decided very long ago. In fact, ultimately, the decision was made just a few days ago. Both drivers found out on Wednesday the plan. It honestly caught Suarez off guard too.
Suarez, was disappointed to be let go as he said he was 95-percent there in terms of having enough funding to return. On Friday, Suarez spoke to that as did Tony Stewart.
See, Stewart-Haas Racing is a partnership between Tony and Gene Haas. In terms of the car in question, Haas controls the driver, not Stewart.
“You know, Gene (Haas) actually controls the 41 car,” Stewart said at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. “But we’re all comfortable with the decision. I spoke to Gene a lot about it. We feel like Cole (Custer) has done a great job this year, and Cole has earned his right to be in the Cup Series next year, with seven wins and running for a championship. He deserves it.
“You know, it ultimately is Gene’s decision, but like I said, this is something that as a company we all agreed with and feel like that Cole has earned his right to be in the series and have an opportunity like this.
“We still want to try to figure out how to help Daniel. I think he deserves to be in the Cup Series. It’s just a matter of how do we fit it all in, and when you’ve got a feeder series and you’ve got your own program to work young drivers up through there, sometimes you get in scenarios like this where you’ve got more drivers than you have cars
“So it’s a tough spot to be in for us as management, but like I said, we’re going to try to work with Daniel and see if we can find a solution to keep him in our system and hopefully get him back in a car one day. But Cole has definitely earned his spot for sure. Everybody has worked hard
“We wish we could have five cars, but we can’t, so it puts us in this odd position to have to make a change like that. It’s bittersweet. We love Daniel, we love what he does, but we also believe in Cole and believe this is the right time and his opportunity, and he’s really made big gains this year. We talked to him at the beginning of the season and said we need to see some improvement and see some gains, and not only did he respond to that, he responded with a bunch of wins this year and racing for a championship this weekend.
“The kid has earned his opportunity to get this ride for next year.”
Suarez, confirms that it was Haas, not Stewart making the final call on his future.
“Its been less than 36 hours since I found out,” Suarez said. “I was 95% sure I was going to be here. I was very surprised.”
Suarez, notes that the final 5-percent of funding wouldn’t have been in place before the deadline but said that “we felt we were fine.” He says that Haas made the final decision and that he’s open to look for anything at this moment.