WATKINS GLEN - Rookie Daniel Suarez opened a lot of eyes on the NASCAR scene with his finish at Watkins Glen International on Sunday.

Suarez recorded a career-best third place finish at I Love New York 355 at the Glen and added his first-ever stage win.

Suarez finished ahead of the likes of former WGI winners Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

“Five years ago, I was a fan of these guys (Hamlin, Busch), they were heroes to me”, said the 25-year-old. “Now to be able to be friends and to be able to share information with these guys is great. Five years ago I was wishing to be in the position one day and I’m very excited and happy to be here right now.

Suarez led 13 laps in the contest, from lap 31-44, his highest total in his career in the Monster Cup Energy Series. In that stretch, he recorded a fast lap of 72.281 with a top speed of 122.024.

While he tapered off a little bit at the end, he topped the rookie field finishing seven spots ahead of Erik Jones, who finished 10th.

“I feel like it was a good weekend,” Suarez said. “We made a lot of progress from the practices and qualifying. I was very happy to finish third.”

Suarez was named the Sunoco Rookie of the race, and received high praise from second place finisher Matt Kenseth.

“I’ve always been really impressed with Daniel,” Kenseth said. “I was really impressed watching the Xfinity’s last year and how he matured throughout the year. He’s been finishing good really good all year.”

Suarez, who took home the Xfinity Championship last season, currently sits at 15th place in the NASCAR Monster Cup points race.

“I feel very confident that we have a chance to win if everything goes well,” said Suarez. “If we keep running the way we’re running right now, that’s good. Finishing in the top 10 consistently is good and when you do that you have a chance to win every weekend.”

After four top 10 finishes in the first 18 races of the season, Suarez notched his fourth top 10 finish in his last four races.

“I was really looking forward to the second half of the year,” said Suarez. “I knew that we were going to improve and know what to expect on these tracks. All the hard work from my team and everyone involved is paying off. We have speed pretty much every weekend now and are consistently running in the top 10.”

NASCAR is looking for a driver to peak interest with younger fans with Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring and Suarez looks to be a candidate if he continues to progress.