NASCAR: Dollar General Leaving Opens The Door For Suarez?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The announcement of Dollar General leaving as the primary sponsor for the number 20 car driven by Matt Kenseth leaves us with some interesting questions to be asked.

Until Dover of this year Matt Keneth has been struggling with bad luck through most of the 2016 NASCAR season. He is also one of the veteran drivers in the series, and the eldest of the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers at 44 years of age. Jeff Gordon just retired at the very same age. This raises the question if it is time to bring up Daniel Suarez and introduce him to cup in 2017.

JGR is in the envious positions of having two drivers in the Xfinty program that look destined for Cup, Eric Jones and Daniel Suarez. The problem is, in years past you could dip your toe in with a driver for select cup races even if you had four full time teams. That would give you a chance to evaluate them in a cup car against cup drivers. With the charter system introduced this year that option is now gone. So you have to fully commit to a driver when you make the decision its time to go up.

Daniel Suarez raced the number 18 Toyota in the Xfinity series full-time in 2015 and the 19 this season. He has consistently finished well and has proven to be able to race with the best in that series. He was the rookie of the year in the Xfinity series finishing fifth in the points standings. So far he has twenty-seven top ten finishes in his first forty-three races, thats impressive. In 2016 its been even better having only finished outside the top ten once in ten events as he sits second in the points.

The sponsorship opportunities for a young Hispanic driver with a bright NASCAR future has to open up more doors than for someone like Kenseth who is in the twilight of his career. Other than Kenseth himself, nobody knows how much longer he will be behind the wheel. This is a tough way to plan the long term future of your program and sell your team to sponsors. Don’t get me wrong, Matt Kenseth is a great former champion and face of the sport, but for how much longer?

NASCAR is a business, it is fed by the dollar and whomever attracts the most dollars is going to get the seat in the car. If you are in the business offices at JGR, the list of companies that you could go after with Suarez is a whole lot longer that the one you can with Eric Jones. Nothing against Jones, but if JGR thought Jones was first in line for cup they would have had him in a seat full time in 2015. Most of those decisions are driven by sponsorship dollars and Suarez seems to pull in more of those.

I spoke to several of the writers here at Beyond the Flag and asked them the question that I think is the real question about Suarez. Is he the real deal or is he just a good driver in the best equipment on the track. That is the question that has to be being asked by those same people at the JGR offices. They know that every time they unload at the track they have the best cars on the property. So is it the equipment or is it the driver?

Fortunately at this time it could be argued the Cup cars JGR are racing in 2016 are the best on the track as well, but that can change very fast. We were talking about Kyle Larson yesterday and how he seems to get more to of the lesser equipment he has. None of the JGR Xfinity drivers have had to overcome bad equipment, so there is no idea of how they would react. I still have to give the edge to Suarez over Jones in that he has only had two finishes lower than twenty-fifth in a year and a half in the Xfinfity series, Jones already has two this season but with two wins.

More racing: NASCAR: Will The Real Kyle Larson Please Stand Up?

Who knows what JGR is going to to do with the 20 car for 2017. All we do know is at some point they are going to have to give Suarez and Jones a shot at cup or they are going to lose them and all that have invested in them. Both drivers are going to be targets of teams like RCR who might have two seats to fill for 2017. When there is a change at primary sponsor like they have now, all options have to be looked at. This might be just the opportunity that Daniel Suarez needed to get the chance to fulfill his dreams of driving at the cup level.