From one iconic racetrack to another, Daniel Suárez, his No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry team for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) and their fellow NASCAR Cup Series competitors will break a 61-year-old tradition Sunday with the running of the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Since 1959, the Cup Series had raced on or around the Fourth of July at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in an annual rite of summer that began its existence known as the Firecracker 400. That streak comes to an end Sunday, when the relatively newer tradition that began its existence known as the Brickyard 400 in 1994 moves from its customary date later in the summer to this year’s Fourth of July weekend.
The 111-year-old Indianapolis Motor Speedway is certainly a fitting locale for the break in tradition as the 2.5-mile oval, featuring its famed Yard of Bricks at the start-finish line, is endeared by most everyone with even the slightest interest in motor racing.
Suárez, who will be making his fourth career Indianapolis start in the Cup Series Sunday, is a huge fan of the place, for one. So are his teammates at GBR, perhaps most notably general manager Mark Chambers, a native of nearby Bowling Green, Indiana, and an electrical engineering graduate of Indiana State University who fondly remembers sitting in the grandstands at the Indy 500 each May before his first job in racing began taking him behind the scenes at the legendary facility. Chambers started his racing career in the 1990s with U.K.-based data acquisition hardware and software maker Pi Research, which provided services for the IndyCar Series and all of its teams.
Longtime racing veteran Nick Ollila, GBR’s technical director, also has a rich history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, having started his career with Team Penske as a mechanic in 1972, then returning to the organization as the its engine builder 10 years later. In addition to four IndyCar championships, his engines powered the winners of four Indy 500s – Rick Mears in 1984 and 1988, Danny Sullivan in 1985, and Al Unser in 1987. Ollila has worked at the Speedway countless times since as a NASCAR engineer for Team Penske – and its Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace – as well as Kranefuss-Haas Racing, Roush-Fenway Racing, Richard Childress Racing, and Red Bull Racing.
This weekend, Suárez and the No. 96 Toyota team hope to take another step forward in their evolution together after a workmanlike weekend with races both Saturday and Sunday at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, a 2.5-mile triangular track with some characteristics similar to the rectangular oval at Indy. The team posted finishes of 28th and 26th last weekend at Pocono and looks to record its best Indy finish in its third consecutive outing at the track. Jeffrey Earnhardt drove the No. 96 Toyota to a 36th-place finish in 2018 and Parker Kligerman drove it to a 32nd-place finish last year.
Suárez’s first of three Cup Series outings at Indy remains his best, when he started 15th and finished seventh in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He finished 11th there last year in the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing entry. He also has a pair of top-seven results in his two NASCAR Xfinity Series outings at the track in 2015 and 2016.
Look for Suárez, his crew chief Dave Winston and the rest of the No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry crew to pull out all the stops in their quest to show improvement each and every week by their program that is still in its relative infancy.