It’s time for a little change of scenery for Daniel Suárez and the No. 96 It’s Good To Be Genuine Toyota Camry team for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR). After four races in the Carolinas during an 11-day stretch that ended a 70-day hiatus for the NASCAR Cup Series due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ll take to the concrete, high-banked, half-mile Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway oval for the some short-track racing.
Sunday’s Supermarket Heroes 500 marks the ninth race of 2020 for the Cup Series competitors and the fifth since the suspended schedule was resumed April 17 with the first of two consecutive races at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Suárez and his No. 96 Toyota finished 25th in NASCAR’s return to racing at Darlington, and followed it up with a 27th-place finish three days later in the first Wednesday-night Cup Series race in 36 years. They then moved to Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway for last Sunday night’s traditional Memorial Day-weekend Coca-Cola 600, followed by Thursday’s night’s Alsco Uniforms 500k, netting 28th-place results in both.
The fifth Cup Series race in the last two weeks takes Suárez and his It’s Good To Be Genuine Toyota Camry – a nod to its partner’s Parts & Service heritage – to one of his more successful racetracks. His history on the Bristol oval began in 2012 with his first of three NASCAR K&N Pro Series East outings – all in Toyota equipment. Suárez also has a pair of Bristol starts in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, six in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and six in the Cup Series. In his most recent Truck Series outing, he started second and led 77 laps before an accident ended his day 16 laps from the finish. His five top-six finishes in six Xfinity Series starts are highlighted by runner-up finishes to Joey Logano and Kyle Busch, respectively, in April 2015 and August 2017.
In last year’s two Bristol Cup Series races, Suárez brought home finishes of eighth in both, driving the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing entry, and he almost added another top-10 when he drove his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to an 11th-place finish there in April 2018. His average Cup Series finish at Bristol is 13.0, his average start 17.7. But Suárez will have to work hard to make forward progress from the wave of the green flag Sunday as he’ll start 37th on a grid for which the top 36 positions – all reserved for chartered teams – were decided Friday by random draw, and positions 37 through 40 – all non-chartered teams – lined up by car owner points.
No matter, Suárez is at his most comfortable when the battle is toughest, and he and his teammates look forward to the typical 500 laps of beating and banging among 40 competitors fighting for position in the tight quarters of the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway oval on Sunday afternoon in the hills of East Tennessee.