For a driver and organization with goals as ambitious as those of Daniel Suárez and the No. 96 CommScope Toyota Camry team for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR), one of the most valuable commodities is track time. As they say, ask and ye shall receive, as Suárez, GBR and their fellow NASCAR Cup Series competitors head to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway for not one, but two races this weekend.
Between Saturday’s Pocono Organics 325 and Sunday’s Pocono 350 on the unique, 2.5-mile triangle in the Pocono Mountains, Suárez and his team relish the opportunity to have a scheduled 675 miles of track time to try and move their single-car operation, which is undertaking the full Cup Series schedule for the first time in its 10-year history, a giant step further along in its development.
Since NASCAR’s return to racing May 17 after a 10-week hiatus due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, track time has been limited to the nine races that have been run thus far, with the exception of a single-lap qualifying session for the Memorial Day-weekend Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. No practice, no other qualifying, and the only opportunity allowed to work on the racecars once at the track occurring between the green flag that starts the race and the checkered flag at race’s end.
For this weekend’s Pocono doubleheader, in which the same car must be used both days, teams will again race their cars as they unload from the hauler in Saturday’s 325-mile event. But, they’ll be allowed to work on their cars for a total of nine hours before the start of Sunday’s 350-miler – four and one-half hours after Saturday’s race, and four and one-half hours prior to tech inspection Sunday.
Suárez is looking forward to this weekend’s return to the track where he scored his first Cup Series pole and best career Cup Series finish of second in the July 2018 race. He led the opening 21 laps in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota that day and eight more before race’s end for a total of 29, and crossed the finish line 1.7 seconds behind his then-teammate Kyle Busch. He’s scored another pair of top-10 finishes at Pocono – seventh in his Gibbs Toyota in the July 2017 race, and eighth in his Stewart-Haas Racing entry last June – and another pair of top-10 finishes in his only NASCAR Xfinity Series races there in 2016 and 2017.
It may be the first weekend doubleheader in the modern era of NASCAR Cup Series racing, but Saturday and Sunday at Pocono will be the third time since the season resumed May 17 that back-to-back races will take place at the same track. Sunday races were followed by scheduled Wednesday-night races at both Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Charlotte – although Charlotte’s second race was run Thursday after getting rained out Wednesday.
But this weekend, teams will have to turn around and race again in less than 24 hours rather than the scheduled three days between events at Darlington at Charlotte. For Suárez and his CommScope Toyota team, they certainly welcome the challenge. And, most certainly, they welcome the track time.