DANIEL SUÁREZ Today. Tomorrow. Toyota Driver Ready for a Second Dose of Darlington

MOORESVILLE, North Carolina (May 18, 2020) – After having to wait 70 days between their back-to-back top-25 finishes March 8 at Phoenix Raceway and Sunday at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, Daniel Suárez and his No. 96 Today. Tomorrow. Toyota Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) have just three days to wait until their next scheduled stop on the NASCAR Cup Series tour – Wednesday night’s Toyota 500k that takes them back to Darlington’s 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval.

 

The fourth-year Cup Series driver from Monterrey, Mexico, and his single-car GBR team that’s tackling the full Cup Series schedule for the first time in its 10-year history returned from the 10-week shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and posted a 25th-place finish in Sunday’s The Real Heroes 400. They started 37th on a grid determined by blind draw, overcame a midrace tire puncture and subsequent spin approaching turn two, and picked up where they left off 10 weeks prior at Phoenix, where they finished 21st.

 

With no practice or qualifying, Suárez and his crew chief Dave Winston took a conservative approach into their first race back, looking to ease into competitive mode on one of the trickiest and meanest racetracks on the NASCAR calendar. The goal Sunday was to post a solid result, emerge unscathed in the Today. Tomorrow. Toyota Camry, and bring it back in attack mode for Wednesday’s 310-mile race under the lights.

 

From that conservative standpoint, it was mission accomplished. Deep down inside, however, the fiercely competitive Suárez and Winston are hungry for much better results and feel they are capable of achieving them, even though Sunday’s was just their fourth race together.

 

Suárez will start 25th on a Toyota 500 starting grid determined by Sunday’s finishing order – the top-20 ahead of him inverted, with race-winner Kevin Harvick starting 20th and 20th-place finisher Ryan Preece starting on the pole.

 

Continuing the Real Heroes initiative in recognition of the nation’s frontline health care workers who have been battling the COVID-19 pandemic since its onset, the No. 96 Today. Tomorrow. Toyota Camry will honor Johnanna Brooke Munroe, a registered nurse in the Medical ICU at Duke University Hospital, which is a designated COVID-19 unit. Munroe hails from Southport, North Carolina, and attended East Carolina University before passing her nursing board exams. She also is a longtime friend of team owner Marty Gaunt and his family. Munroe’s name will appear above the driver-side door of the No. 96 Camry during the Toyota 500k and, like Sunday, a huge thank you to all medical frontline workers will appear on the hood of the racecar.

 

Arriving with an improved racecar after lessons learned Sunday and avoiding trouble in the race will be the goal as usual for Suárez and his GBR teammates, all with an eye toward bettering that season’s best run at Phoenix.

 

Daniel Suárez: Driver of the No. 96 Today. Tomorrow. Toyota. Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing:
 

How do you feel about your and the team’s return to live racing Sunday at Darlington and your 25th-place finish?

“I think it was a decent day, a clean day. Not totally clean, actually, because I almost hit the wall when we had a flat tire – a flat right-rear that put us behind a little bit. But we were able to overcome that. Like I said Sunday night, we are overachieving at this point, which is good, but obviously we have to keep working to try to get more speed. We’re still building many different areas of the team and I have a lot of confidence that we’re going to start heading in the right direction. We just have to really keep digging and hopefully take everything we learned on the track on Sunday, and everything we can learn in our meetings at the shop, and come back stronger on Wednesday.”

 

Wednesday’s race scheduled to be a night race. How much of what you learned during Sunday’s afternoon race apply?

“Nighttime at Darlington is definitely different than daytime. The track is tighter and you have to keep adjusting on that. At the end of the day, you just have to work on your adjustments at the shop and, whoever has the best notebook and best simulation and data, that’s the team that has the best chance on Wednesday night.”

 

There’s been talk of midweek races for years, and now they’re finally here. What do you think about that?

“That’s a good question and I don’t really know. We’ll find out starting Wednesday night. We’re all going to learn. For me, I think it’s fun to race during the week. I think every single team is going to struggle at least a little bit because nobody was planning on doing this when the season started, and then we were shut down for so long. We’re definitely working hard to make it work to our advantage as a team. As a driver, if I could race every day, I would be very happy, but from a team standpoint, it’s going to be very good experience and a very good learning curve for everyone.”

 

With less time to recover from the last race and prepare for the next race, what effect do midweek races have from a driver fitness standpoint?

“Normally we race once every six or seven days, and now we will have weeks where we will have races every three or four days. From a time standpoint, that means twice as many competition meetings, data sessions, reports to write, all the things we normally do to debrief after one race and get ready for the next race. It’s most important to stay focused on all of those things, especially because, with no practice and qualifying, preparation is more important than it’s ever been. As a driver, it’s also important to stay in top shape, physically. So you just need to make time to train your body so you can be fresh at the end of these races. That can have a lot to do with your results on the racetrack.”

 

Dave Winston, Crew Chief of the No. 96 Today. Tomorrow. Toyota. Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing:
 

Your thoughts after Sunday’s first race back after the layoff, and your return to Darlington Wednesday?

“I feel like we’ve got it under control. Yesterday, I felt like we didn’t run very well even though we came away with a 25th-place finish. Marty (Gaunt, team owner) and Mark (Chambers, general manager) were good with it. Everybody seemed to be happy, but deep down inside, Daniel and I definitely feel like we want to do better than that. There were positives that came out of Sunday’s race, sure, but there were frustrations, too. I want to give Daniel a much better racecar than we did on Sunday and I know we’re capable of that. He wants to go out and be in a position to win races and knows what it takes to do that, and that’s the way it should be. Right now, it’s a matter of putting in the work to do everything we can to come back Wednesday with a better racecar.”

 

What would you consider to be some of the positives that came out of the race on Sunday?

“I think a big thing was that the track came to us. We got better as the race went along. We were being conservative to start with. Daniel was conservative with the way he attacked the track and I was conservative with the setup because neither of us wanted to hurt the car. Yes, we finished 25th, but we still felt like it was maybe a 30th-place car. Now, when we go back Wednesday, we can be a little more aggressive and attack the track.”

 

With Wednesday’s race being at night after an afternoon race Sunday, will any of what you learned carry over?

“I think a lot of it will carry over. Darlington has been a night race for a lot of years, and we’re already used to practicing in the daytime and racing at night there and it’s not been a big deal. The track will tighten up as more rubber gets laid down, so you just have to leave yourself plenty of room to free up the car to begin with. That’s how it goes at Darlington and that should be the case this time, too.”

 

How did the first race back go for you from a team standpoint after the lengthy layoff?

“We made no real mistakes, nothing fell off the car, so from that standpoint it went well. Having a competition caution with a cold pit stop was nice because we were able to knock the rust off on that first stop. I think we functioned as a team pretty well. We had to have a reduced number of personnel there so we had to get creative to make sure all the job functions were taken care of, and that came off smoothly. All of our preparation tools worked. Now it’s a matter of using them even more and getting more confident with them. The goal continues to be having a better racecar than last time every time we go to the track.”

 

No. 96 Today. Tomorrow. Toyota. Camry Team Report
Race 6 of 36 – Toyota 500k – Darlington
 
Car No. 96: Today. Tomorrow. Toyota Camry

PR Contact: Laz Denes with True Speed Communication (Laz.Denes@TrueSpeedCommunication.com)

Primary Team:

 

Driver: Daniel Suárez

Hometown: Monterrey, Mexico

 

Crew Chief: Dave Winston

Hometown: Miami, Florida

 

Technical Director: Nick Ollila

Hometown: Warren, Michigan

 

Car Chief: Mark Hillman

Hometown: Lockport, New York

 

Engine Specialist: Kirk Butterfield

Hometown: Carrollton, Ohio

 

Engine Builder: Toyota Racing Development

Headquarters: Costa Mesa, California

 

Spotter: Steve Barkdoll

Hometown: Garrison, Iowa

Over-The-Wall Crew:

 

Gas Man: Cory White

Hometown: Vinson, Iowa

 

Front Tire Changer: Mike Mead

Hometown: Sherrills Ford, North Carolina

 

Rear Tire Changer: Brandon Traino

Hometown: Cherry Hill, New Jersey

 

Tire Carrier: Mason Harris

Hometown: Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia

 

Jackman: Joel Bouagnon

Hometown: St. Charles, Illinois

 

Windshield: Mark Hillman

Hometown: Lockport, New York

 
Toyota 500k Notes of Interest:

 

  • After piloting the No. 19 NASCAR Cup Series Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017 and 2018, then the No. 41 Cup Series entry for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2019, Suárez joined the single-car No. 96 Toyota Camry effort for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) for the full 2020 season.
  • Suárez will make his 113th career NASCAR Cup Series start in Wednesday night’s Toyota 500k on the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. He has career totals of eight top-five finishes, 32 top-10s and 241 laps led, with an average start of 15.8 and an average finish of 17.4. He also has qualified on the pole twice.
  • In four previous Cup Series outings at Darlington, Suárez has a best start of fifth and a best finish of 11th, both scored in his September 2019 outing in his Stewart-Haas Racing entry.
  • Suárez has a pair of third-place finishes in two career NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Darlington. He qualified second and led 14 laps before crossing the finish line behind winner Denny Hamlin and runner-up Kyle Busch in September 2015. A year later, Suárez qualified fifth and finished behind winner Elliot Sadler and runner-up Hamlin en route to that year’s series championship in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
  • Crew chief Dave Winston, a native of Miami, Florida, and a veteran of 64 Cup Series races atop the pit box, called the shots at two previous races at Darlington prior to Sunday’s The Real Heroes 400. He collaborated with driver Alex Bowman in the No. 23 BK Racing Toyota in the April 2014 race, starting 34th and finishing 29th. His driver Michael McDowell started 30th and finished 27th in the September 2016 race driving the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing entry.
  • GBR last week welcomed the addition of longtime motorsports veteran Nick Ollila as technical director. The native of Warren, Michigan, will oversee the team’s engineering department and returns to the United States after a three-year stint serving in the same capacity with Kelly Racing in the Virgin Australian Supercars Championship. Ollila and team owner Marty Gaunt first worked together in 1997 when the two were at Kranefuss-Haas Racing. Their NASCAR paths crossed again 10 years later when both worked at Red Bull Racing – Gaunt as general manager and Ollila as chief aerodynamicist. NASCAR is where Ollila has spent the bulk of his career, which includes being the drivetrain specialist at Rod Osterlund Racing in 1980 when Dale Earnhardt won the first of his seven Cup Series championships. Ollila’s racing career began at Team Penske in 1972 as a mechanic. He prepared cars for each of the series in which the organization competed, a lineup that included IndyCar, NASCAR, Can-AmFormula 5000, sports cars and Formula One. NASCAR became Ollila’s focus in late 1976. He joined DiGard Racing as the team’s drivetrain specialist, working with NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip until the end of the 1978 season, whereupon he went to work for Osterlund. IndyCar and Penske beckoned in 1982, and Ollila returned as the team’s engine builder, enjoying four championships (1982, 1983, 1985 and 1988) and four Indianapolis 500 victories (1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988). That Penske connection led Ollila back to NASCAR in 1990, when he became the lead engineer for Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace. It was the beginning of a 20-year stint in NASCAR.
  • Wednesday night marks the third Darlington Cup Series start for the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Toyota. Prior to Sunday’s 25th-place finish from the 37th starting position by Suárez in The Real Heroes 400, driver Jeffrey Earnhardt drove to 34th-place finish from the 40th starting position there in September 2018.
  • Coca-Cola and CommScope continue their respective partnerships with Suárez at Gaunt Brothers Racing. The iconic Coca-Cola brand has been with Suárez since 2015 when he won the Xfinity Series rookie-of-the-year title. CommScope, a leader in communication network technology, has been with Suárez through its ARRIS and Ruckus Networks brands since 2014, when he first competed in the Xfinity Series.

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