Daniel Suárez and the red, white and blue No. 96 Today. Tomorrow. Toyota Camry team for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) can’t wait to get back to the 1.5-mile Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway oval for Wednesday night’s NASCAR Cup Series Alsco Uniforms 500k after an admittedly frustrating run in Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600.
Their sixth race together Sunday night – and third since the season resumed after a 70-day shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic – netted a 29th-place finish. That wouldn’t normally be cause for concern for a small, one-car team that’s tackling the entire Cup Series schedule for the first time in its 10-year history in NASCAR. But a series of mishaps, which included a penalty for a crewman over the wall too early, another penalty for speeding on pit road, a stuck lug nut on a green-flag pit stop, and a fueling issue that negated a planned strategy call midrace, left the team wondering what might have been with its patriotic-schemed Toyota that its driver said had so much more potential.
Thank goodness for second chances as Suárez and his teammates will get to find out during Wednesday night’s 500-kilometer event that will feel like a sprint race just three days removed from Sunday night’s 600-mile marathon. Last week, between their back-to-back races just down the road at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, Suárez and crew chief Dave Winston put their heads together and returned to the tricky, 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval with a Toyota that felt far better in Wednesday night’s race than it did the previous Sunday.
This Wednesday night, they’ll look to once again show that kind of marked improvement in the performance of their Today. Tomorrow. Toyota Camry, eliminate the kind of mishaps that hampered their efforts Sunday night, and put themselves in position to better their best finish this season of 21st, which came March 8 at Phoenix Raceway.
Daniel Suárez: Driver of the No. 96 Today. Tomorrow. Toyota. Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing:
How are you and the team feeling about heading back to the Charlotte oval after Sunday’s night’s Coca-Cola 600?
“It’s always good to go back a second time, but it’s the last time we’re going to do it as far as the schedule is now, so we can’t get used to that. The goal is to be as prepared as possible for the first time you race at a track because we won’t have those second races after this. We all know what we have to do to be better prepared, to do a better job with simulation, and better preparation at the shop. Sunday night was very frustrating. We had some issues on pit road – a lot of mistakes – and we all know we need to minimize our mistakes because I felt our Today. Tomorrow. Toyota had the potential to be in the top-25. We’ve been breaking down every aspect of Sunday night’s race and are working on bringing a little better speed for Wednesday night – that, and minimizing mistakes.”
Do you expect it to be a totally different kind of race as it’s about half the distance you covered on Sunday night?
“It might be, but personally, I will treat it the same. I was being aggressive for 600 miles on Sunday night, just as I would be aggressive in a 300-mile race. It’s just the way I am. If I see an opportunity, I’m going to take it.”
It will be your fourth racing event operating under what might be called, for now at least, the temporary new normal with no fans, health screenings, etc. How has it been for you and the team?
“Having no fans there, I hope we never get used to that. Honestly, it’s not fun to race without fans all around. It still feels weird to show up at the track the way it has been so far. But obviously a lot of people are watching us on TV and that’s a really good thing because we can’t have fans in the stands. But as drivers, and especially in our sport, we’re all about the fans and the sponsors and we’re looking forward to the day when they will be back out there with us.”
Dave Winston, Crew Chief of the No. 96 Today. Tomorrow. Toyota. Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing:
Your assessment of Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 and what you might expect as you head back to Charlotte Wednesday night?
“On a positive note, I felt like, especially on restarts, it was pretty fun to watch for a while and gave me hope that we have some speed in our Toyota, and then we could work on getting it better on the long runs. But we had issues where we ended up hurting ourselves, whether it was a bad stop, being over the wall too early and having to start at the back, Daniel sliding the tires and coming in too fast and then having to do a pass-through. There was a time where I felt like if it could go wrong, it did. Last week at Darlington, we went back the second time with a better car than we had in the first race, so the goal is to do the same this week, and also to not make the mistakes we did on Sunday night. It’ll be another night race and the track should be really good since it’ll be the fourth straight day of racing there, and the weather should be close to the same as Sunday.”
After a night like Sunday night, do you have to dig deep to remind yourself this is a long-term project and to keep everybody feeling positive?
“You always want to be positive and I think everybody is. Nobody’s giving up, there’s no question about that. We showed up with a lot of confidence because we did a simulation test for qualifying and we felt we would qualify in the top-20. That didn’t happen, so we immediately went into recovery mode, trying to see what we had to do to get the splitter off the track. It was humbling. That’s a good word for it. Reality set in after there was huge optimism for 36 hours, and all it took was a 31-second lap to change that optimism. We’ve been poring over the data, trying to figure out how to fix what went wrong, then what we can do to make the car better – things on the aero side, things to increase the performance side of the car. Daniel talks about this car having so much more potential. When he feels there’s more in the car, that’s always a good thing. We went to Darlington and felt there was more potential in the car after the first race. We went back and it was better in the second race. That’s the goal this week.”
No. 96 Today. Tomorrow. Toyota. Camry (Red, White & Blue Edition) Team Report
Race 8 of 36 – Alsco Uniforms 500k – Charlotte
Car No. 96: Today. Tomorrow. Toyota Camry (Red, White & Blue Edition)
PR Contact: Laz Denes with True Speed Communication (Laz.Denes@TrueSpeedCommunication.com)
Driver: Daniel Suárez
Hometown: Monterrey, Mexico
Crew Chief: Dave Winston
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Technical Director: Nick Ollila
Hometown: Warren, Michigan
Car Chief: Mark Hillman
Hometown: Lockport, New York
Engine Specialist: Kirk Butterfield
Hometown: Carrollton, Ohio
Engine Builder: Toyota Racing Development
Headquarters: Costa Mesa, California
Spotter: Steve Barkdoll
Hometown: Garrison, Iowa
Gas Man: Cory White
Hometown: Vinson, Iowa
Front Tire Changer: Mike Mead
Hometown: Sherrills Ford, North Carolina
Rear Tire Changer: Brandon Traino
Hometown: Cherry Hill, New Jersey
Tire Carrier: Mason Harris
Hometown: Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia
Jackman: Joel Bouagnon
Hometown: St. Charles, Illinois
Windshield: Mark Hillman
Hometown: Lockport, New York
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!