NASCAR: Better 2021 – Bubba Wallace or Daniel Suarez?

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing Team, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing Team, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez are both moving to new teams for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. Which driver will have a better year?

Two full-time NASCAR Cup Series drivers from last year have signed to compete full-time this year with brand new teams.

Bubba Wallace is set to drive for 23XI Racing, the team owned by current Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan.

Daniel Suarez is set to drive for Trackhouse Racing Team, the team owned by former NASCAR competitor Justin Marks and musical artist Pitbull.

With both drivers changing teams, who will fare better this season?

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Both teams pose many of the same challenges. Both have charters, an important guarantee in their first year of competition. They both have alliances with other teams as well. 23XI Racing will be affiliated with Hamlin’s current team, Joe Gibbs Racing, so Wallace will drive the #23 Toyota.

Trackhouse Racing Team will be allied with Richard Childress Racing, so Suarez will drive the #99 Chevrolet. Interestingly, Suarez will have driven for all three manufacturers from 2019 to 2021, having driven a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2019 and a Toyota for Gaunt Brothers Racing last year.

Only a few races will have practice and qualifying sessions, creating challenges for both drivers in their respective new rides.

Although Suarez and Wallace are both experienced Cup Series drivers, racing for new teams will be a learning curve for them as well as their teams.

Comparatively, Wallace and Suarez have fared about the same in their respective Cup Series careers. Suarez has more top five finishes, top 10 finishes, and more laps led than Wallace, but Wallace outperformed him last year.

Suarez endured a rough 2020. Driving the #96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota, he failed to qualify for the season-opening Daytona 500. While he successfully qualified for the remaining 35 races on the schedule, he did not achieve any top 10 finishes, led only 20 laps and ultimately finished a career-worst 31st place in the championship standings.

Wallace, on the other hand, wrapped up his third full-time season driving the #43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet. His 2020 season was his career-best season and his most noteworthy season to date.

On the track, he finished fifth in the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway and accrued five top 10 finishes. His career-most lead lap finishes (18) vaulted him to a career-best 22nd place finish in the championship standings.

As the only African-American driver in the Cup Series, Wallace also made headlines last year for his stance on racial issues. He ran a Black Lives Matter paint scheme in a race at Martinsville Speedway.

His premier headline stemmed from a noose being found in his garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway. Prior to that race, the other Cup Series drivers pushed Wallace’s car to the front of the pre-race lineup in a moment of solidarity.

The FBI later deemed it was not a hate crime and it had been there since at least the previous race there, but Wallace and NASCAR demonstrated their feelings on racism in the sport during what was an especially tense period of time.

Wallace and Suarez are eager to prove their worth in their new rides, but which driver will perform better this season?

For Wallace, his two best tracks have been Daytona International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In the 2018 Daytona 500, Wallace scored his career-best finish of second place. The four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) high-banked oval in Daytona Beach, Florida will once again host the Cup Series season opener and regular-season finale.

But instead of racing on the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, the Cup Series drivers will make both left and right-hand turns on the 13-turn, 2.439-mile (3.925-kilometer) road course in Speedway, Indiana. Wallace has not fared well in his road course races, with only four lead lap finishes in eight career starts.

One new addition to the Cup Series schedule this year is the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race. While no one has competed on that course before, Wallace won the 2014 Truck Series race on the dirt at Eldora Speedway. Can he nab his first career Cup Series win there?

Wallace indeed will have his best opportunity to win this year. 23XI Racing have a bevy of sponsors, which is especially vital during these difficult financial times in this COVID-19 pandemic.

Moreover, veteran crew chief Mike Wheeler will be atop the pit box guiding Wallace this season. Wheeler has won five times in the Cup Series, all with Hamlin, and four times in the Xfinity Series, three of those with Hamlin as well. In 148 Cup Series races as a crew chief, Wheeler has led his drivers to 69 top 10 finishes. 23XI Racing is wagering he can be successful with Wallace as well.

When 23XI Racing unloads for the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, Wallace will have an exciting #23 Toyota.

Suarez also is winless in his Cup Series career, but he has been successful in both the Xfinity Series and Truck Series, with a combined four wins and the 2016 Xfinity Series championship.

Trackhouse Racing Team also boasts a high profile team partner. Pitbull joined the team as a partner, increasing their recognition and possibly opening up the door for future sponsors.

As for the team, Suarez will have Travis Mack as his crew chief. Mack guided Xfinity Series driver Michael Annett to a win and two top 10 championship finishes in his two full-time seasons with JR Motorsports. He only has served as a Cup Series crew chief for 17 races, but he came from a top-notch Xfinity Series team.

Suarez has led laps at a variety of Cup Series tracks. He scored top five finishes in both 2019 races at Michigan International Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. He also has two top five finishes at Watkins Glen International. While he only has eight top five finishes in 143 Cup Series starts, he is ready to excel this season.

So which driver will finish better, Suarez or Wallace? Truthfully, I doubt either will win this season. Limited practice and qualifying time will limit their abilities to establish an understanding and repertoire with their crew chiefs.

It will also reduce the number of opportunities for their teams to adjust the cars, which will be a challenge as both drivers want to succeed in their first years with these new teams.

As for who will best the other, I predict Wallace will finish in 20th place in the championship standings thanks to the Toyota support.

Yes, Trackhouse Racing Team do have Richard Childress Racing’s support, but three out of four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers won last year, and Hamlin himself finished in fourth in the championship standings. Suarez, on the other hand, will improve upon last year, but he ultimately will finish in 26th in the standings.

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Who do you think will finish better, Bubba Wallace or Daniel Suarez? The Cup Series is slated to begin the 2021 season at Daytona International Speedway with the 63rd annual Daytona 500. The historic race will take place on Sunday, February 14 at 2:30 p.m. ET with TV coverage provided by FOX.