Wednesday, Dave Rogers crew chief of the No. 19 announced he was taking a leave of absence from Joe Gibbs Racing effective immediately. Rookie driver, Daniel Suarez is just six races into his relationship with Rogers, and is already having to adjust. The good news though is that Scott Graves is assuming the role of crew chief on Suarez’s team.
Graves served as Suarez’s crew chief last year in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, where the two won a championship together. The prior year, Graves was on crew chief Chris Buescher’s NASCAR Xfinity Series, which also resulted in a championship. That’s the good news. The two have a history, and Graves has won back-to-back championships in the Xfinity Series.
But this is the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and this week it’s Martinsville.
The shortest track on the Cup circuit is a tricky place to tackle, even for seasoned veterans. Tack on the fact that Friday’s single practice happened on a green race track, as wet weather plagued the Virginia track all day, ultimately cancelling Cup qualifying, falling back on point standings for pit box selection and start order for Sunday’s 2017 running of the STP 500.
That single Friday practice though ended up bad for Suarez as he reported brake issues going into turn one. Already sliding entering turn one, the car ultimately hit the wall, rear end first, destroying the car as the JGR and satellite Furniture Row Racing teams scrambled to pull the backup.
“We had some sort of issue with the brakes,” Suarez said in Friday’s press conference in the Martinsville Speedway media center.
“The first run, everything went OK. I didn’t wreck or anything,” he said.
Crew Chief Dave Rogers’ Absence
Suarez said losing Dave Rogers mid-week was a complete surprise to him, and that he and Rogers were slowly starting to click and get some chemistry.
“I respect Dave a lot and to try to take care of his personal stuff. As tough as this schedule is — as busy as it is, it’s tough to do,” he said.
Suarez added that Rogers is a great guy and a great crew chief.
“I know how [bad] he wants to be at the race track,” Suarez said, adding Rogers has worked his whole life to get to the position he has at Joe Gibbs Racing.
“The only thing I can do, is wish him the best and I hope that he comes back soon.”
Rogers’ leave of absence was described as being for personal reasons. Suarez said he didn’t know any more than that, but that he wishes he knew more. No advance notice was given, and Suarez said it took Rogers by surprise as well.
Scott Graves Stepping In
Daniel Suarez said he did give input about working with Graves again after their success last year in the Xfinity Series.
“It was important to put someone there that I knew already,” he said.
He added he did not know the big picture, but was guessing Graves would be his crew chief for the entire season.
Suarez said his first Cup practice crash at Martinsville Speedway was not discouraging.
“Martinsville is a difficult race track,” he said.
“Everything can happen here. I’ve seen drivers come from the back twice and win the race.”
He said it’s a place where drivers have to be patient and was optimistic about the backup car, saying at least he knew the brakes would be better than the primary car. Suarez said the inclement weather also was an advantage for his team, giving them some extra time to work on the backup car.