NASCAR: Inevitable silly season rumor should have ended in Atlanta

Daniel Suarez was considered on the "hot seat" entering the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season. Let's put an end to that rumor right now.

Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing Team, NASCAR
Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing Team, NASCAR / Alex Slitz/GettyImages

Trackhouse Racing Team's Daniel Suarez signed what was said to be a multi-year contract extension ahead of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. He was already assumed to have been under contract with the team through the 2023 campaign, so the deal was believed to run through at least 2025.

Nevertheless, he entered the 2024 season as one of several drivers on the hot -- or, at the very least, warm -- seat, following a 2023 season in which he seemed to regress and was consistently outperformed by teammate Ross Chastain.

In 2022, which was Suarez's second season behind the wheel of the No. 99 Chevrolet for the team, the Justin Marks and Pitbull-owned organization expanded from one to two cars, adding the No. 1 Chevrolet for Ross Chastain.

Chastain won his first two races and advanced to the Championship 4. Suarez himself earned his first career win and his first playoff appearance in five full seasons in the sport. He advanced to the round of 12.

In 2023, Chastain again won twice. Suarez went winless and failed to qualify for the postseason after a strong start to the year.

Daniel Suarez could not afford a bad 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season

Given everything that has gone down at Trackhouse Racing Team since Suarez signed his extension, all eyes were on him this year. Shane van Gisbergen became the first Cup Series driver to win on debut in six decades on the streets of Chicago last season, doing so as a part of Trackhouse Racing Team's PROJECT91 program, and the team signed him to a development deal.

They also signed 2022 Truck Series champion Zane Smith to a multi-year contract, and he now competes on loan from the team at Spire Motorsports. They even signed 17-year-old phenom Connor Zilisch to a multi-year deal.

Bottom line, another bad year for Suarez did not exactly bode well for his future at the up-and-coming team, even for as much as he fits the culture of what Marks and his crew are trying to create.

Even if they manage to find the means to expand to three full-time entries, they certainly appeared to have options in place to move on from Suarez and be just fine in both the short run and the long run.

Now Suarez is a winner again, and he earned his second career trip to victory lane in a finish that will be talked about for generations on Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, holding off Team Penske's Ryan Blaney by 0.003 seconds -- and Richard Childress Racing's Kyle Busch by an additional 0.004 seconds -- to deliver Trackhouse Racing Team their seventh team victory in the last 22 months.

There is a long way to go in the 2024 season, and while his playoff spot isn't mathematically secured, the first 10 seasons of the modern playoff format never produced more than 16 regular season winners.

Sunday's win may very well keep Suarez's seat safe -- even if he was already technically "under contract" through 2025. We all know how certain deals work in racing; not everything is always as it seems.

At the very least, the focus will surely turn elsewhere. Everybody knows that "silly season" starts earlier and earlier each year, so Suarez winning early -- and in the fashion that he did -- should put what once seemed like an inevitable rumor waiting to happen to bed.

Perhaps the fact that it happened just six days into the new season will ease the burden and take the pressure off of the 32-year-old Mexican as he aims for his first ever multi-win season.

Keep in mind, this is a driver who was released by both Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing in back-to-back years. He had to claw his way back into the Cup Series full-time, and when he got another opportunity, it was with a team that had made a grand total of zero starts.

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He was once mocked -- by another driver, no less -- for calling this deal his "best opportunity", and he has already silenced those critics. While superspeedway/drafting races are often considered a different beast, it's hard to argue that he hasn't done something similar to open up what was considered a make-or-break 2024 season.