● Ty Dillon, Bass Pro Shops and Black Rifle Coffee Company return to theNo. 96 Toyota Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) when the NASCAR Cup Series makes its historic debut at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, for Sunday’s EchoPark Texas Grand Prix. The 20-turn, 3.426-mile road course that has been home to Formula One’s United States Grand Prix since 2012 is hosting NASCAR’s top three national touring series for the first time this weekend.
● The 29-year-old Dillon will be making his third Cup Series start of the season and the 165th of his career in Sunday’s 68-lap, 231-mile race. Earlier this season, he drove the No. 96 GBR Toyota to a 19th-place finish on the road course at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, and to 26th-place finish in the first-ever Food City Dirt Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. In this year’s Duel qualifying races for the Daytona 500, Dillon finished a solid sixth in the No. 96 Toyota but was nipped at the finish line by .04 of a second in his bid to qualify for The Great American Race with the non-chartered team. It marked the highest Duel finish ever by a team that did not qualify for the Daytona 500.
● The No. 96 Bass Pro Shops/Black Rifle Coffee Toyota Camry will be making GBR’s 77th 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 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 continues to be NASCAR’s exclusive distributor of Toyota parts as Triad Racing. 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 (Calif.) Speedway, 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.
● Sunday’s race marks GBR’s 10th Cup Series road-course outing. Dillon’s road-course experience enabled him to avoid huge mayhem during the closing laps of February’s race on the 14-turn, 3.61-mile Daytona circuit en route to his 19th-place finish. Suárez drove the No. 96 Toyota to a 27th-place finish in last year’s Daytona road-course race.
● In its most recent outing, the No. 96 GBR Toyota took to the high banks of Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway at the hands of 20-year-old Harrison Burton, who made his Cup Series debut with a solid 20th-place finish in the GEICO 500. Burton was sitting eighth during the race’s final restart with two laps to go, but was shuffled back to 20th when the high line he was in was bogged down. Burton made history by becoming the first driver born in the 2000s to pilot a Cup Series car. He also became the youngest to drive the No. 96 GBR Toyota. Jesse Little, previously the youngest, was 21 years of age when he drove it at the 2018 Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race at Bristol.
● Sunday’s race marks Dillon’s 12th career road-course start in the Cup Series. His most impressive road-course outing, even though the final result didn’t reflect it, came in the rain last October on the Roval at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. 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 this year’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 is the second 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 Roval was added in 2018, giving the series three road-course venues. The initial 2021 schedule doubled that tally, with Circuit of the Americas, 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 this year at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, the Daytona road course was put in its place.
● Bass Pro Shops is a longtime supporter of Dillon. North America’s premier outdoor and conservation company was with Dillon for his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win in July 2014 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and his three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victories – August 2012 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, June 2013 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, and November 2013 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
● Black Rifle Coffee Company is a premium, roast-to-order, veteran-owned coffee company that gives back to veterans in every cup. Founded by Evan Hafer, a Green Beret who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Black Rifle Coffee Company has quickly established itself as a strong brand with a growing community of loyal fans thanks to its delicious coffee and commitment to supporting veterans, law enforcement and first responders. The 2021 season marks its second year as a sponsor in NASCAR.
Ty Dillon, Driver of the No. 96 Bass Pro Shops/Black Rifle Coffee Company Toyota Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing
Overall thoughts as we head to Circuit of the Americas for the first time this weekend?
“I’m very excited to get back behind the wheel with Gaunt Brothers Racing in the No. 96 Toyota. I’m so pumped for this weekend. When the schedule came out and Circuit of the Americas was on it, it was definitely the race that I most looked forward to all year. To be out there with the GBR team and have Bass Pro Shops and Black Rifle Coffee on board once again is really awesome. I’m so thankful for the opportunity.”
Do you believe the playing field will be more level than usual since it’s everyone’s first time at the track?
“To me, it will be an equalizer race. We do have the opportunity to get some practice in, but I’m looking forward to a race where no one has any experience at before. I think that lends a hand to someone like myself. I really strive on adapting quickly to new situations and road courses have been a good place for me to capitalize on that.”
What have you been doing to prepare for this weekend’s race?
“To prepare, I’ve been watching a lot of old videos or previous in-car footage from other series that have run on the track. This week, I’ll be spending a lot of time on the simulator and in my personal shifter kart at Go Pro Motorplex in Mooresville to get back in the flow of turning left and right. I’m looking forward to getting to COTA and having a good race weekend overall.”
How might your experience in the No. 96 Toyota on the Daytona road course earlier this year help you this weekend?
“We just stayed tough that day. I knew the car would be there at the end when we needed to get ourselves in position for a good finish. Experience says that a lot of guys kind of take their brains out and put it on the dash there for the last few laps. You’ve got to be smart and put yourself in position for a good finish. Obviously, we want to be winning races, but Toyota Camry got better and better and that’s what we’re doing with this race team. We want to progress every time we get in. We learned a lot. There are a lot of things we could do better, but I’m really proud of our effort and hope to carry it over to this weekend.”
Marty Gaunt, Owner of the No. 96 Bass Pro Shops/Black Rifle Coffee Company Toyota Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing
How has it been for you and the team having gone back to competing part-time with an eye toward the Next Gen car’s arrival next year?
“Obviously it’s a different schedule for us than we ran last year with COVID and everything. We’ve gone back to running part-time and it’s definitely different. We prepare differently, racing only about once a month. We ran the road course at Daytona with Ty starting at the back, and we had a pretty solid day with a 19th-place finish. We always want to be finishing better than that, but it was solid for being Ty’s first full race in our car. We had a good run going in the (Bristol) dirt race. We ran about 15th most of the day, but the last stint of the race didn’t go our way and we ended up out of the top-20. We’re coming off a good run with Harrison Burton at Talladega. He was eighth on the last restart but just got hung out of line there and finished 19th. Having multiple drivers in our car makes it very interesting as we’re working with a different kind of learning experience for each of them and for us as a team to adapt to that. Having Ty back with us on another road course, with Bass Pro Shops and Black Rifle Coffee Company, is exciting. Down the road, we’re looking forward to Daytona and Talladega and the Charlotte Roval, and obviously the other inaugural events at Road America and the Indy road course bring a lot of excitement, too. In the meantime, we’re also diving into our program for next year, having ordered parts and pieces for the Next Gen car.”
Any special thoughts about racing at Circuit of the Americas for the first time?
“It’s another new race for everybody, which makes it interesting and exciting. We like new venues because there’s usually a lot of buzz around the race. COTA is definitely a different configuration than anything we’ve run in the past. There are a lot of passing zones and it’s wide. Inaugural events are always exciting, like Bristol was earlier this year. We’d been to Bristol many, many times in the past, but making it a dirt race made it like an inaugural event for everybody because no one knew what to expect. From what I’ve seen, the facility at COTA is spectacular. That’s a byproduct of Formula One, as were the tremendous facility upgrades at Indy when Formula One raced there. I can’t wait to get to COTA and see it in-person.”