Most fans of NASCAR racing are well aware of Daniel Suárez’s fun and flavorful relationship with the iconic Coca-Cola brand, which officially began during the Mexican driver’s first full season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2015. They celebrated an Xfinity Series championship together in 2016, and their partnership has grown to be as strong as ever through what is now Suárez’s fourth season in the top-tier NASCAR Cup Series.
But a relative unknown is that Suárez has been part of the Coca-Cola family since before he was born. His mother worked in the corporate offices of Coca-Cola in their hometown of Monterrey, Mexico, even while she was pregnant with him. It’s something that makes Suárez especially proud to represent the American multinational beverage company as a NASCAR driver for the sixth season.
This weekend, he’ll be racing his No. 96 Coca-Cola Toyota Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) just down Interstate 75 from the company’s worldwide headquarters during Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Suárez and his NASCAR Cup Series brethren were originally slated to race at the 1.54-mile oval on March 15, but it turned out to be the first event postponed during the 10-week suspension of the 2020 schedule due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Suárez is particularly excited about the chance to head back to Atlanta this weekend and represent partner Coca-Cola on its home track, even though NASCAR’s comprehensive health and safety procedures in place since its return to racing April 17 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway will keep him from hosting company executives, partners and customers in-person at the track. Sunday’s sixth race since the resumption of the 2020 schedule will again be run with no fans in attendance, limited crew, strict social distancing, and mandated personal protective equipment and health screenings for all.
Coming off last Sunday’s 18th-place finish at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway – the team’s best finish of 2020 – Suárez looks to continue the calculated and steady progress made to date in GBR’s first full Cup Series season since the team joined the NASCAR ranks a decade ago. It will be the first event with Coca-Cola as the primary sponsor on the No. 96 GBR Toyota.
While the 28-year-old Suárez’s personal history with Coca-Cola dates back to before he was born, the company’s storied history in NASCAR runs deep, dating back more than 50 years, including its partnerships with drivers, teams, events and racetracks. From 1998 through last season, Coca-Cola was an Official Partner of NASCAR and, beginning this season, assumed the role as one of the elite four “Premier Partners” of NASCAR.
Suárez would like nothing better than to improve upon last weekend’s first top-20 finish of the season when he takes to the track for Sunday’s 500-mile event. It will be his fourth career Cup Series start at Atlanta, where last year he qualified fifth and finished 10th driving the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing entry, and finished 15th from the fourth starting position in 2018 behind the wheel of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
It’s certainly a track that suits him, and his experience there extends to NASCAR’s Xfinity Series and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. His best of two Xfinity Series outings was a seventh-place finish from the fourth starting spot en route to the 2016 championship in that series. His best finish in a pair of Truck Series outings there was fourth from the fourth starting position in the 2015 event driving the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.
Racing in the Coca-Cola colors just down the road from the company’s downtown Atlanta headquarters this Sunday, Suárez and the No. 96 Coca-Cola Toyota Camry team from GBR look to take another step forward in their evolution together.
Daniel Suárez: Driver of the No. 96 Coca-Cola Toyota Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing:
Your relationship with Coca-Cola dates back to well before you first became a Coca-Cola driver in 2015. Talk about that.
“I have a lot of history, actually, with Coke, because my mom, before she had me, she was working in the corporate Coca-Cola office in my hometown. I think that’s pretty cool. I’ve had a relationship with Coca-Cola even before I was born. It’s a company that has been around for over 100 years and that’s not easy to do. I just feel very proud to be part of the Coca-Cola Racing Family and to be making a little bit of history with them in the NASCAR Cup Series.”
What’s the key to posting a good result at Atlanta Motor Speedway?
“It’s a very fast mile-and-a-half oval and the surface is very old and very hard on the tires. So you have to have a well-balanced racecar that will make it possible to get the most out of your tire wear each run. You can usually run the top and the bottom of the racetrack, so you have to find where you’re going to get the most out of the car. All of that is why the races at Atlanta are always so exciting.”
You and the team took another small step forward in terms of results with last Sunday’s 18th-place finish at Bristol. Will that have any effect on the kind of momentum you’re bringing to Atlanta this weekend?
“The best thing about this team is all the great support we are getting from Coca-Cola, CommScope and Toyota, and we know that there will be a day when we will be competing for race wins with them. It’s obviously still very early and everyone has very realistic expectations This is a one-car team that is running the full season for the first time and I’ve said all along that the goal is to go out every weekend and do better than we did last weekend. Our finish at Bristol showed that. How will that translate to how we will do at Atlanta? Probably not much as far as the racecar. We struggled to find speed at Charlotte in both races before Bristol. Hopefully what we learned at Charlotte will help us at Atlanta this weekend. Believe me, it’s a very challenging process and we just have to keep working hard.”
No. 96 Coca-Cola Toyota Camry Team Report
Race 10 of 36 – Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 – Atlanta
Car No. 96: Coca-Cola Toyota Camry
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!