NASCAR: Three pleasant surprise teams at the Easter break

In a year of dramatic parity, these three NASCAR teams have provided some solid surprise early showings through seven races.

There will be no Easter egg roll on asphalt on dirt for NASCAR’s national series, as the Cup, Xfinity, and Truck units have gone a brief hiatus. The premier Cup Series will return to action next Saturday night at Martinsville Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1).

With seven of 36 events down at the Cup level, parity has been the name of the game. We’ve seen seven different drivers win the first seven races. While some of the trophy-hoisters have been expected (Martin Truex Jr./Joey Logano), we’ve seen first-time winners (Michael McDowell/Christopher Bell), long droughts end (Kyle Larson/Ryan Blaney), and a young veteran start to build his tally up (William Byron).

This trio of teams has been particularly surprising, as we give them their due on a quiet weekend at the track…

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 08: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #47 Kroger Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 08, 2020 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

JTG Daugherty

Many eyes have turned to the NASCAR endeavors of a certain University of North Carolina alum turned NBA All-Star. The subject, of course, is Brad Daugherty and his shared team with Jodi and Tad Geschickter. There’s obviously plenty of time for Michael Jordan’s squad, 23XI Racing, to find their groove. In the meantime, it’s hard not to appreciate what Daugherty’s team has done in this young season.

One of the more interesting stories of the 2021 season is perhaps that of Ryan Preece. His No. 37 Chevrolet doesn’t have a charter, but he has managed to keep it competitive in the early going. Preece was one of four drivers (Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Michael McDowell the others) to finish in the top ten in each of the first two races. He’s also one of 11 drivers who have run at the finish of each of the seven events run so far.

Meanwhile, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came to the team’s No. 47 after a disappointing tenure at Roush Fenway Racing. He has earned top 20 finishes in all seven races to date, capping it off with a runner-up posting at Bristol. The team currently holds one of the 16 playoff spots, a fantasyland that JTG Daugherty has not seen since its lone appearance in 2014 (A.J. Allmendinger). Stenhouse will undoubtedly be capable of winning at Talladega later this month. He won the 2017 spring event and drove the No. 47 to a narrow runner-up finish there last season.

Adding to their consistency, both Preece and Stenhouse have done a great job keeping their cars clean this season. The two have failed to complete only a combined six of a possible 3,388 laps.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 06: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #16 Ellsworth Advisors Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco Uniforms 300 at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 06, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Kaulig Racing

Anyone who has kept an eye on the NASCAR Xfinity Series would know that Kaulig Racing was on the rise through its victorious triumvirate. Such consistency has continued on the developmental level (Allmendinger won the Las Vegas race while he, Justin Haley, and Jeb Burton have united for 13 top tens). But their Cup program took some steps forward in the early showings as they inch closer to full-time status. Things got started when Kaz Grala raced his way into the Daytona 500’s main event (even leading 10 laps) before Allmendinger earned a top ten run at the ensuing road course event.

“I think it’s been the worst-kept secret that they have aspirations to get to the Cup Series, racing it full-time down the road, try to be a multi-car team down the road,” Grala said following his success at the Bluegreen Vacation Duels. “This is the first small step towards a big picture. I know (racing at Daytona) a victory for everybody at the team.”

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – MARCH 29: Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 Camping World Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 29, 2021 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Trackhouse Racing

It was fair to keep expectations low for Trackhouse Racing. Even with strong backing from recording artist and philanthropist Pitbull, new teams have often struggled to gain their footing in modern NASCAR. Behind the wheel was Daniel Suarez, who struggled mightily, even by low-budget standards, in Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 last season.

But Suarez has enjoyed a slight resurgence in the seat of the team’s No. 99 Chevrolet. Signs of progress were apparent even before his top five run at the Bristol dirt event. The team probably would’ve earned a top ten finish at Atlanta if not for Suarez’s speeding penalty on pit road. He earned top 20 runs in the next two races after getting caught up in the early “Big One” in Trackhouse’s Daytona debut. The No. 99 currently sits in 20th in the standings, best amongst new teams and 28 points out of a playoff spot.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 


NASCAR Cup Series Preview 2021: Trackhouse Racing Team

Multi-platinum artist Pitbull is adding NASCAR owner to a resume as long as a lap at Daytona, uniting with Justin Marks and Daniel Suarez.

2021 Trackhouse Racing Driver Chart
Driver Car No. Crew Chief Primary Sponsor(s)
Daniel Suarez 99 Travis Mack iFly/Pump It Up Party/CommScope/K1 Speed


Armando Christian Perez knows all about what it’s like to make a difference and build successful ventures in Florida. In Daytona Beach on Sunday, Perez, known by his stage name of Pitbull, will potentially start a new one four hours from his beloved hometown of Miami.

Pitbull has teamed up with entrepreneur and former racer Justin Marks, opening the Trackhouse Racing Team, a new endeavor that adds to his enormous resume that also includes 11 studio albums, acting credits, and countless philanthropic endeavors. Those latter-most affairs are set to continue through a STEM education program that will work hand-in-hand with Pitbull’s SLAM Academy, a charter school in Miami. Onboard for the literal ride are Ty Norris, a longtime front office man who previously worked with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Michael Waltrip Racing, and Daniel Suarez. The Monterrey, Mexico native was the first non-American born driver to earn a championship in one of NASCAR’s three major levels when he topped the Xfinity Series in 2016.

“I’m far from a celebrity…I’m a hard, hard worker. Big difference,” Pitbull said of his new opportunity. “Celebrities will sell anything. I’m not here to sell anything. I’m here to help the culture, help unify, more than anything help motivate and inspire those through my story, through Daniel’s story, Justin’s story, Ty’s story, and NASCAR’s story.”

2020 in Review

After things didn’t work out in a single season in Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 41 (since occupied by Cole Custer), Suarez signed with low-budget squad Gaunt Brothers Racing less than a month before the Daytona 500. Things got off to a brutal start, as Suarez got into a wreck at Daytona’s qualifying duels without a charter and failed to appear in the main event. Though the early dropout set the tone for a brutal season…Suarez’s best finish in GBR’s No. 96 was a pair of 18th-place postings at Bristol and Kansas…he was one of only seven full-time drivers to have two or few DNF’s (did not finish) last season. Among the others on that list were Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Brad Keselowski.

Meet the Driver

Daniel Suarez

Experience: 5th season
Career Cup Victories: 0
2020 finish: 31st
Best standings finish: 17th (2019)

There’s no denying Suarez has the talent to race at NASCAR’s highest levels. In addition to his Xfinity title, he has earned strong postings in the Mexico-based PEAK Series and the national Truck circuits (16 top tens in 27 attempts).

Part of his struggles may stem from an uncomfortable entrance into the premier league. When Carl Edwards abruptly retired a month before the 2017 season opened, Suarez was thrust into Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 Toyota with little preparation. He later got the boot two seasons later when champion Martin Truex Jr. was left without a ride after the closure of Furniture Row Racing. Suarez seemed to be getting the hang of his Cup ride at the time of the Truex announcement, with a runner-up finish in the latter Pocono race. Ironically, the No. 99 Chevrolet with Trackhouse, a number Marks chose to pay tribute to Edwards’ days in the identically-numbered Ford Edwards once drove for Jack Roush. Suarez also raced his way into the NASCAR All-Star Race twice with wins in the Open.

Speaking before he descended upon Daytona, Suarez was grateful for the rare stability Marks offered to him at Trackhouse. The original partnership was announced in October, three months before Pitbull joined in.

“This off-season has been probably the most productive I have had in a very, very long time…already knew since before the season was over exactly what I was going to be doing. When you are with that much time ahead, you can actually organize yourself, you can work hard, and you can put everything in perspective,” Suarez said. “For me was extremely important obviously to get together with Justin, with Ty Norris, that made this happen, and put everything, our goals, perspective, how we’re going to be able to achieve these things…Everything that Justin, Ty, Pitbull now, want to do outside the racetrack is amazing. I love all those things. At the same time competition is extremely important for me. I know I can win races. I’ve done it before. Championships as well. I want to do that in the Cup level.”


The talent is there with Suarez, and he’s finally had an offseason full of certainty and some strong resources behind it. It’s difficult for any team to get traction in their first season, but it appears that Trackhouse has the resources and experience to at least get the ball rolling. If they can consistently run in the top 20, that’d be a great jumping point for a driver looking for welcome consistency.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Pitbull joins Trackhouse Racing as co-owner

The singer/songwriter will join one of NASCAR’s newest teams and is also launching a racing-based STEM curriculum.

Mr. 305 is making the four-hour drive from Miami to Daytona.

Award-winning hip hop artist and philanthropist Armando Christian Perez, best known by his stage name Pitbull, is joining up with NASCAR, joining the ownership group of Trackhouse Racing. Working alongside entrepreneur and former driver Justin Marks, Pitbull will help oversee Trackhouse’s 2021 debut. The team’s No. 99 Chevrolet will be driven by 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Daniel Suarez.

Perez, who turned 40 on Friday, has been a supporter of NASCAR for several years. His 2020 single “Get Ready”, featuring country star Blake Shelton, was commonly used during the most recent NASCAR season. The track first appeared on Libertad 548, his 11th studio album. Perez and Shelton performed the song during prerace festivities at the Cup event at Phoenix last March.

“I’ve been a fan of the NASCAR story since the movie ‘Days of Thunder,’” Perez said in a statement. “As soon as I met Justin, (team president) Ty Norris and Daniel, we were on the same page. They welcomed me aboard, and now we’re going to show the world NASCAR is not only a sport but it’s a culture.  This is an amazing way to celebrate my 40th birthday, so Get Ready! Dale! (Dah-lay)”

In addition to his team owner duties, Perez will also serve as Trackhouse’s “brand and philanthropic ambassador”. He and Marks will oversee the development of a racing-based STEM curriculum, working alongside SLAM! (Sports Leadership Arts and Management) inner-city charter schools. Perez helped create the organization in 2014.

“Within the first 10 minutes of our first meeting, it was clear Armandoand I share a vision and passion for impacting the lives of the underrepresented,” Marks said. “We are creating and compelling a movement of positivity and possibility, using the platform and excitement of sports and music.  Through NASCAR and our partnership with Pitbull, we are going to have the attention of a global demographic that is ready to be inspired into action for themselves, their families, and their future.”

The newly formed team will make its debut at the 2021 Daytona 500 on February 14. Suarez, 29, has earned 32 top-ten finishes over four full years of Cup Series competition, previously working with Joe Gibbs Racing (2017-18) and Stewart-Haas Racing (2019). He drove Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 car last season in that low-budget team’s full-time debut year, with his best finish being a pair of 18th-place postings at Bristol and Kansas.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags