With a 14th-place finish in Thursday night's second Can-Am Duel race, Gaunt Brothers Racing and driver D.J. Kennington qualified the No. 96 Lordco/Castrol Toyota Camry into the 59th running of the Daytona 500. Kennington will start 28th in Sunday's race.
For team owner Marty Gaunt, making GBR's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut is the most profound step in a motorsports odyssey that began when he was 13 years old.
"To me personally, this means a lot, just with our name on the car," said Gaunt, also the president of Triad Racing Technologies. "Having grown up with my brother, going racing with him over the years since the mid-70s, to think he took me to my first race when I was 13, and now we're in the Daytona 500, is pretty spectacular."
Gaunt Brothers Racing previously competed in what is now the NASCAR Pinty's Series in 2011. Their Cup Series debut will be the result of a collaborative effort between GBR, Triad, Toyota Racing Development and RAB Racing.
"This was a total team effort after all the hours that everybody put in, literally 15 to 18 hours a day putting a car together," added Gaunt. "From everybody at Triad with the unbelievable horsepower and reliability we had throughout the race to TRD giving us time in the wind tunnel and guiding us in the right direction for putting a speedway car together; we came to Daytona for the very first time as a team and made the race. There are probably 50 people who contributed."
Kennington, hailing from St. Thomas, Ontario, will become the first Canadian to compete in The Great American Race since Calgary's Trevor Boys in 1988, a 29-year drought that the two-time NASCAR Pinty's Series champion is thrilled to end.
"This is huge; huge for Canada, huge for all of my team and my family. It's just an unbelievable feeling," said Kennington. "I don't even know how to explain it. I feel like I won the Daytona 500."
Kennington, who teamed with longtime sponsor partners Castrol (Wakefield Canada) and British Columbia-based Lordco Auto Parts for what will be his second-career Cup Series start, has 19 career victories in the Pinty's Series; however, he is relatively new to the concept of drafting, the style of racing on display at Daytona. Gaunt and team prepared their driver, who improved before everyone's eyes during Thursday's qualifying race.
"(Kennington's improvement) comes down to Robby [Benton] on the roof spotting, guiding him throughout the race," said Gaunt. "There was one time that looked like he was going to lose the draft. Robby talked him through splitting the wake to get back through there. D.J. came on and said, 'Wow, I'm learning a lot. I'm going to school.' Then he came back through and caught the tail end of the draft. He's been watching tapes and Robby's been working with him. D.J. did everything he needed to do to make the 500."
For Kennington, Thursday's race was the ride of a lifetime.
"The 7 car, I thought, was locked in on time and was going to be a little more cautious than that, but we had to race him to the line. I wouldn't want it any other way. That was awesome. This is one of the biggest moments of my life."
The 40-car field for the 59th Daytona 500 will take the green flag on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 2 pm ET.