Considering the theme for this year’s annual Throwback Weekend at historic Darlington (S.C.) Raceway is “NASCAR Champions … Past, Present and Future,” Daniel Suárez’s No. 96 CommScope Toyota Camry team for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) didn’t have to dig too deep to find an appropriate paint scheme to showcase during Sunday night’s Cook Out Southern 500.
After all, the single-car team competing in its first full season since joining the Cup Series ranks in 2017 has had a bona fide NASCAR champion strapped into the cockpit of its racecars all year long in the person of Suárez, who made history by winning the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series title.
Driving the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, the native of Monterrey, Mexico became the first Latin American-born champion of a NASCAR national series that year behind his three victories, 19 top-five finishes, 27 top-10s and 347 laps led during the 33-race Xfinity Series campaign. He clinched his title with a dominating victory in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he started on the pole, led a race-high 133 laps, and beat runner-up Ty Dillon by .968 of a second.
Riding along with Suárez that year was his now-longtime sponsor ARRIS, known today as CommScope, and two weeks ago his GBR team was able to surprise its champion driver by unveiling Sunday night’s orange-and-white ARRIS paint scheme during a nationally televised interview. Not surprisingly, Suárez said he felt goosebumps when the scheme was revealed, and that he will be proud to sport those colors in the iconic Southern 500.
Safe to say Suárez’s most recent Cup Series outing Saturday night on the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway oval was another throwback, of sorts. The 28-year-old posted his strongest performance, yet, since joining GBR just before the start of the 2020 season when he drove to the front in his No. 96 CommScope Toyota and stayed there most of the night, leading 19 laps in the middle stage before getting caught up in a multicar accident during the closing laps that relegated him and the team to a 26th-place result. It ended a string of 24 consecutive races in which Suárez and his No. 96 Toyota were running at the finish – a stretch duplicated only by regular-season champion Kevin Harvick.
Sunday night’s race marks the series’ third race of 2020 to the 1.366-mile egg-shaped Darlington oval. The previous two were run four days apart – on May 17 and 20 – and marked NASCAR’s return to competition after a 10-week hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Suárez posted finishes of 25th and 27th in the back-to-back events, the first two run this season with no practice or qualifying.
Sporting his throwback championship paint scheme, and coming off the season’s most promising performance, Suárez and his GBR teammates head to Darlington looking to keep the momentum going at “The Track Too Tough To Tame.”