● Toyota takes center stage for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 NASCAR Cup Series race on the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway 14-turn, 3.61-mile road course when Ty Dillon gets behind the wheel of the No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) for his 163rd career Cup Series start. It’s the second event in a row in the No. 96 Toyota for the 28-year-old driver from Lewisville, North Carolina, and also the second race in as many weeks competing on the Daytona road course. Last week, Dillon debuted the all-new 23XI Racing Toyota owned by fellow Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin and former NBA great Michael Jordan in the non-points Busch Clash exhibition on the Daytona road course. In Thursday night’s Duel qualifying races for the Daytona 500, Dillon finished a solid sixth in the No. 96 GBR Toyota but was nipped at the finish line by .04 of a second in his bid to qualify for The Great American Race for the non-chartered team.
● The No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry will be making GBR’s 74th start since joining the Cup Series as a part-time team in 2017. Team owner Marty Gaunt’s almost two-decades-long relationship with Toyota dates back to his ownership of the Toyota-powered Clean Line Racing team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, which became Red Horse Racing, as well as his executive role in the formation of the Red Bull’s nascent Toyota-powered Cup Series team. Gaunt’s Toyota ties strengthened after the 2008 season when he purchased Triad Racing Development, which leased Toyota engines across NASCAR’s Cup, Xfinity and Truck series and was NASCAR’s exclusive distributor of Toyota parts. Gaunt founded GBR in 2010, with his eponymous team starting out in the Canada-based NASCAR Pinty’s Series and the U.S.-based NASCAR K&N Pro Series. Its first driver, Jason Bowles, scored GBR’s maiden victory in the 2011 Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway in California, with the precursor to that win being the pole position in track-record time at the 2011 Streets of Toronto 100. After seven years competing in NASCAR’s development divisions, Gaunt stepped up to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. His team contested the full Cup Series schedule with Daniel Suárez in 2020, but scaled back its focus in 2021 to the superspeedway and road-course races with an eye toward the introduction of NASCAR’s Next Gen Cup Series car in 2022.
● The Daytona road-course race is the first of a ground-breaking seven NASCAR Cup Series races to be held on road courses in 2021. From 1988 to 2017, there were only two road courses on the schedule – Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. The Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval was added in 2018, giving the series three road-course venues. The initial 2021 schedule doubled that tally, with Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course all being added. And when COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of the series’ stop at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, the Daytona road course was put in its place.
● Sunday’s race marks Dillon’s third career Cup Series start on the Daytona road course. He started 23rd and finished 20th there when the series raced on it for the first time last August, piloting the No. 13 Germain Racing entry. It will also mark his 11th career road-course start in the Cup Series. Dillon’s most impressive road-course outing, even though the final result didn’t reflect it, came in the rain last October on the Charlotte Roval. He climbed in wet conditions from the 17th starting position in his Germain Racing entry to lead the final five laps of the opening stage. He went on to finish 22nd in the race, but the Stage 1 win earned him the spot in last week’s Busch Clash at Daytona.
● Dillon enjoyed modest success on road courses while competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series from 2014 to 2016. In 10 road-course outings, he had an average start of 7.3 and an average finish of 9.8, with top-fives at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington in 2015 (third) and 2016 (fourth), and another top-five at Watkins Glen in 2015 (fifth), all with Richard Childress Racing.
● Sunday’s race marks GBR’s ninth Cup Series road-course outing. Dillon will roll off 38th on a starting grid determined by a weighted formula factoring in current point standings, as well as final result and fastest laps in the previous race. Suárez drove the No. 96 Toyota to a 27th-place finish in last year’s Daytona road-course race. Sunday’s race marks the sixth atop the pitbox for a Cup Series road-course race and second at Daytona for crew chief Dave Winston, a native Floridian who hails from Miami.