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.