Everyone knows what they say about 2020 and hindsight, but for Daniel Suárez, driver of the No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Cars Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR), his fourth career NASCAR Cup Series season in 2020 is all about building for the future.
Fresh off his 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship, Suárez was promoted to the elite NASCAR Cup Series, first with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017 before moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2019.
Not long after the calendar flipped to 2020, the 28-year-old native of Monterrey, Mexico embarked on his fourth Cup Series season as the focal point of the single-car GBR Toyota effort that will undertake the full series schedule for the first time in its 10-year history. With technical partner Toyota Racing Development (TRD) providing its full support, and backing from Suárez’s longtime partners Coca-Cola and CommScope, the seeds of success have been planted for the No. 96 Toyota to thrive in the long haul.
Carefully managed expectations is one of the primary themes as team owner Marty Gaunt, his general manager Mark Chambers, crew chief Dave Winston, Suárez, and the rest of the No. 96 camp begin their inaugural season together on stock car racing’s biggest stage – the 62nd running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
“The Great American Race” has seen a No. 96 GBR Toyota in the field for each of its past three editions since the team first joined the Cup Series as a part-time effort in 2017. Its 15th-place finish in last year’s season opener with Parker Kligerman behind the wheel is the team’s best finish of the three.
Before Suárez and his No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry can post another solid Daytona 500 finish, they’ll have to race their way into Sunday’s main event during the first of Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel – twin 150-mile heat races that set the field for the Daytona 500. As one of seven independent, non-chartered teams on the Daytona 500 entry list, there is no guaranteed starting spot for GBR. The No. 96 Toyota must finish ahead of the other three non-chartered cars in Duel No. 1 to secure its place in Sunday’s 40-car grid.
Suárez and his No. 96 Toyota posted the 36th-best lap in Daytona 500 qualifying last Sunday, fifth best among the seven non-chartered teams, and will start 19th in Thursday’s Duel No. 1.
While the No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry didn’t show the raw speed Suárez and his team expected in qualifying trim, their confidence in making the Daytona 500 field is justified in the driver’s and car’s respective performances in Saturday’s opening practice. Suárez finished the session eighth on the timesheet and fastest among the drivers from non-chartered teams, all while being a key player in drafting maneuvers with his Toyota brethren.
Superspeedway experience will also be on Suárez’s side as he looks to stay out of trouble during his Thursday Duel and earn a spot in the Daytona 500 for the fourth time in his career. Suárez has totaled 25 starts in NASCAR’s top-three touring series at Daytona and its sister track, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. He also tasted near victory in his very first race at Daytona, when he scored a runner-up finish in the 2015 ARCA Series season opener.
With crew chief Winston calling the shots atop the pit box, Toyota power under the hood, the backing of Coca-Cola and CommScope in his corner, and the hunger of a confident, single-car team determined to compete week in and week out with the established, multicar teams, Suárez feels ready and more motivated than ever to kick off a new racing season.