One of the more well-worn but still extremely relevant clichés in motor racing goes something like this: “To finish first, you must first finish.”
For Daniel Suárez and his still relatively young No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry team for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR), the “finish first” part might not be a weekly expectation just yet, but they’ve shown so far in their first season together they’ve got the “you must first finish” part down pat.
As the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season reaches its midpoint at Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Suárez and his non-chartered, single-car team have certainly made the most of the extremely limited track time available – literally – since the series returned May 17 from its 10-week shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the disappointment of having to miss the season-opening Daytona 500 thanks to a midrace accident in the No. 96 GBR Toyota’s Duel qualifying race, Suárez has run the table in the statistical category known as “running at finish” in the 16 races since. The 28-year-old native of Monterrey, Mexico is one of only three full-time drivers who have completed every race in which they’ve competed this year – points leader Kevin Harvick and Matt DiBenedetto being the other two. Four other drivers whose only DNF (did not finish) this season came at the Daytona 500 – Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and William Byron – have also finished every race since.
They may not be race wins, but for a young, single-car team with the goal of competing week-to-week with the big, multicar operations, regularly bringing home its modest stable of Toyotas unscathed is a victory in itself and facilitates the team’s evolution. Suárez, the fourth-year Cup Series regular, has completed 4,339 of the 4,378 – 99.1 percent – laps available in the 16 races since the Daytona 500, ranking him 16th among all drivers in laps completed, even without the 209 laps that would have been available to him had he made the Daytona 500 field. A lead-lap finish at Daytona would have put Suárez in the top-six among all Cup Series regulars.
The finishing streak and laps completed are a testament to the steady focus on the big picture by Suárez, his crew chief Dave Winston, and the entire GBR crew race after race. On top of the fact that the current norm involves lining up to race without the benefit of practice or qualifying, being a non-chartered team allows Suárez and his No. 96 Toyota to line up no better than 37th when the starting grid is determined by blind draw. That typically puts the team behind the eight-ball even before the green flag flies.
No matter, Suárez, Winston and all of GBR have remained upbeat under the leadership of team owner Marty Gaunt. They know the process takes time and they’ve bought in on the importance of paying the price, doing the work, taking baby steps in the here and now.
Come Sunday on the fast, 1.5-mile oval at Texas, where Suárez finished third in both of last year’s races in his Stewart-Haas Racing entry, the cool-headed driver and the patient but tenacious racing team behind him look to move their ambitious program just a little bit further along.