As Daniel Suárez and his No. 96 CommScope Toyota team for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) head to the road course at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling 235, the theme in so many respects is “uncharted territory.”
For the 28-year-old native of Monterrey, Mexico, 2020 saw him join the single-car team that for the first time committed to the full season’s slate of races since it joined the Cup Series ranks in 2018. Uncharted territory.
Just four race weekends into the season, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt, including an unprecedented 10-week suspension of the NASCAR schedule before its return to racing in mid-May under strict health and safety protocols and race weekends that had no practice or qualifying. Uncharted territory.
This weekend, the series heads for the first time to the otherwise iconic road course on the Central Florida coast, which since 1966 has hosted one of the crown jewels in all of sportscar racing – the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Uncharted territory.
So far through their 21 races this season, Suárez and GBR have navigated their carefully planned path to Cup Series competitiveness with consistency. The 2015 Rookie of the Year and 2016 champion of the NASCAR Xfinity Series who spent 2017 and 2018 driving the No. 19 Cup Series Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing and 2019 driving the No. 41 entry for Stewart-Haas Racing has completed every race in which he’s competed in 2020, the only driver other than points leader Kevin Harvick to do so. He’s logged three top-20 finishes and seven top-25s, which is a modest accomplishment but magnified by the fact they’ve been relegated to a starting position of 37th at all but four races since the mid-May return to racing because GBR is a non-chartered team.
From an operational standpoint, they’ve also navigated the weekly racing routine since NASCAR’s return to competition on par with the most established competitors despite being a single-car operation.
As they head to the 3.57-mile, 14-turn Daytona road course for the first time in Cup Series history, Suárez and his GBR teammates hope the fact there will be no practice or qualifying once again might be a great equalizer between the small teams and those that have been part of the series for decades. Sunday’s opening pace laps will be the first time the entire field of drivers will have driven their respective, 3,500-pound stock cars on this particular layout, which features a frontstretch chicane newly added just for this weekend’s slate of races. Talk about uncharted territory.
Suárez has enjoyed a measure of success competing on road courses during his rise through the stock-car-racing ranks. He drove a Toyota to victory on his hometown Autodromo de Monterrey road course in the 2013 NASCAR Peak Mexico Series in one of his first of 26 career road-course races behind the wheel of a stock car. He posted a runner-up finish in a 2013 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Road Atlanta that same year. Twice he finished fourth on road courses in his Gibbs Toyota –at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin – during his 2016 Xfinity Series championship season. And he has a best Cup Series road-course start of fifth and finish of third with 14 laps led in his Gibbs Toyota at Watkins Glen in 2017.
As he heads into uncharted territory at Daytona this weekend with his fellow Cup Series competitors, there’s one constant in his recent career that will be riding along with him for the first of five consecutive races – primary sponsor CommScope. The company was known as ARRIS back in 2015 when it sponsored Suárez’s Gibbs Toyota in the Xfinity Series, and it has been with him every year since. And CommScope has not only stuck with Suárez, it has helped millions of race fans stay connected at the racetrack, at home and everywhere in-between with its wireless technologies.
Sunday’s race marks the milestone 60th Cup Series start for GBR. Look for Suárez, his crew chief Dave Winston and the rest of the team to pull out all the stops as they navigate their way through the Cup Series’ maiden voyage on the iconic Daytona road course.