Daniel Suárez and the No. 96 CommScope Toyota Camry team for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) head to Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 NASCAR Cup Series race ready to attack the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway oval for the first time together in a points-paying race.
Saturday night’s 400-miler under the lights is a race Suárez and the single-car team he joined just prior to the start of the season have not necessarily been fixated upon. But after February’s heartbreaking turn of events on the 2.5-mile superspeedway oval in their Duel qualifying race for the 62nd Daytona 500, they can’t be blamed for wondering what might have been, nor for circling this weekend’s return date to “The World Center of Racing” as a chance for redemption.
An unfortunate collision while in position to claim one of the coveted Daytona 500 starting spots during Duel 1 brought an abrupt and unexpected end to the team’s first race weekend together. But the 28-year-old Suárez, whose new team took on the full 36-race schedule for the first time since joining the Cup Series ranks in 2017, took little time to shake off the disappointment and have soldiered on ever since.
Entering Saturday night’s event, Suárez has reeled off 24 consecutive races in which he and his No. 96 Toyota have been running at the finish, making him and regular-season points champion Kevin Harvick the only two drivers to do so. And the native of Monterrey, Mexico who’s in his fourth Cup Series season and his new team have shown consistency and timely signs of progress in their steady and calculated mission to compete week in and week out with the much larger and long-established Cup Series teams. Seven top-25 finishes, including bests of 18th at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, as well as a 20th-place run at the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, are modest indicators that they’re heading in the right direction.
Deep down inside, Suárez and his GBR teammates know the best is yet to come, and they’ll stay the course they laid out and have been executing together since joining forces mere weeks since arriving at Daytona for the first time last February. And during Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400, they just might have a little extra motivation for putting up their best result to date.