It’s All-Star Week for Daniel Suárez and his No. 96 It’s Good To Be Genuine Parts & Service Toyota for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR), and that brings the excitement of short-track racing under the lights as the NASCAR Cup Series takes its annual non-points All-Star Open and All-Star Race to a brand new location Wednesday night for the first time in 33 years – Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
All-Star festivities have been held on the 1.5-mile Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway oval every year but one since the event’s inception in 1985 – the lone exception being 1986, when it was held at its sister 1.5-mile oval, Atlanta Motor Speedway. With no championship points on the line and a $1 million first prize, All-Star events typically showcase some of the wildest racing to be witnessed each season.
Now that it’s set to take place in the tighter confines of the .533-mile, high-banked concrete oval at Bristol for the first time Wednesday night, the level of excitement just might approach unprecedented levels.
The 28-year-old Suárez will be making his fourth appearance in the All-Star Open and his first with the single-car No. 96 GBR Toyota team, and he’ll be on a mission to advance to the All-Star Race for the third time by winning one of its three stages, the first two of which are 35 laps, followed by a final 15-lap sprint to the finish. He won the Open on his very first try in 2017, taking the lead with three laps to go in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at Charlotte and beating Austin Dillon across the finish line by 1.039 seconds. He was subsequently eliminated after the second segment of the All-Star Race. The following year, he advanced to the All-Star Race by winning Stage 2 of the Open, then went on to finish second to Kevin Harvick by a .325-of-a-second margin in the feature race. Last year, a midrace accident during the Open ended Suárez’s evening early in his Stewart-Haas Racing entry.
Wednesday night’s event brings Suárez and his No. 96 It’s Good To Be Genuine Parts & Service Toyota back to the scene of their best finish of the season on May 31. In was only their ninth race together and began from what has become their customary starting position of 37th – first of the non-chartered Cup Series competitors – since the series returned from a 10-week shutdown due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It ended with an 18th-place, lead-lap finish as Suárez avoided trouble throughout the 500-lap event.
With only 85 laps to work with this time and a starting spot of 19th after Monday night’s qualifying draw, Suárez, his crew chief Dave Winston and his GBR pit crew know they will have to once again avoid the expected mayhem on track and get creative with their strategy. One new wrinkle NASCAR is experimenting with Wednesday night is the “choose cone” rule, which allows all competitors to pick either the inside or outside line on restarts, not just the first-place driver as is the case during points-paying races. It will allow drivers willing to risk taking the non-preferred line the chance to gain potentially numerous positions just before the race goes back to green.
In another new wrinkle, NASCAR is also experimenting Wednesday night with a paint scheme format in which the car number typically centered on the side door panels is moved back toward the rear wheel. It’s designed to allow more prime real estate for primary sponsor graphics on the sides of the car.
But even with a new venue, a new rule, and a new look for the racecars, Suárez and his It’s Good To Be Genuine Parts & Service Toyota teammates are ready to put on the typically exciting show fans have come to expect from the annual All-Star event.
Daniel Suárez: Driver of the No. 96 It’s Good To Be Genuine Parts & Service Toyota for Gaunt Brothers Racing:
The NASCAR All-Star Open and All-Star Race are at Bristol for the first time this year. How do you think it will affect the kind of racing we typically see in those events?
“I think it’s going to be challenging, for sure, because it’s such a short race compared to the 500 laps we usually race at Bristol. I feel like it’s going to be difficult for everyone to make passes, so you’re going to have to move people out of the way to make something happen. It sounds like fun, but really it’s not going to be much more fun because you have to get so much done in such a short amount of time. The goal for us will be like it is every week, and that is to keep our car in one piece. If we have a shot at it, we’ll take it. But I won’t wreck the It’s Good To Be Genuine Toyota for fifth place. We just have to do the same as we do every weekend and be smart –aggressive, of course, but smart.”
You posted the team’s best finish of the season at Bristol at the end of May. Does that make you and the team feel confident about your chances Wednesday night?
“It was a 500-lap race and we had a lot of time to get the job done, and we were able to stay away from all the trouble. Wednesday night, it’s two 35-lap segments and a 15-lap segment. Thirty-five laps at Bristol is not a lot at all. It’s like 12 laps at Charlotte. My advantage at Bristol in May was long-run speed, and that won’t be a factor on Wednesday night. It’s a very short race, but it is what it is. I feel like it’s going to be a difficult test. Not impossible, but we will have to have a lot of things go our way.”
What are your thoughts about the new “choose cone” rule on restarts that will be in effect Wednesday night? Do you feel you’ll be willing to take the chance to gain a huge number of positions in the non-preferred lane?
“I’ve never raced under the choose cone rule, so I don’t know too much about it. I think we will all learn about it together. The race is so short that I’m not sure the track is going to have time for a second racing groove to develop enough to where it’s going to be worth the risk. But we’ll know we can try to take advantage of the rule if the opportunity presents itself and the situation is right.”
No. 96 It’s Good To Be Genuine Parts & Service Toyota Team Report
Non-Points Event – NASCAR All-Star Race – Bristol
Car No. 96: It’s Good To Be Genuine Parts & Service Toyota Camry
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
NASCAR All-Star Notes of Interest:
After piloting the No. 19 NASCAR Cup Series Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017 and 2018, then the No. 41 Cup Series entry for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2019, Suárez joined the single-car No. 96 Toyota Camry effort for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) for the full 2020 season.
Suárez will be making his fourth career start in the NASCAR All-Star Open Wednesday night at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. He advanced to the NASCAR All-Star Race in his first two outings in his Gibbs Toyota, when the race was held at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. He won the Open in 2017, leading nine laps along the way, then was eliminated in the All-Star Race after the second segment. In 2018, he advanced to the All-Star Race by winning Stage 2 of the Open, then finished runner-up in the featured event by a .325-of-a-second margin to Kevin Harvick. Last year, he started fourth in the Open and finished 12th, leading one lap.
Suárez has made 124 career points-paying NASCAR Cup Series starts. He has career totals of eight top-five finishes, 32 top-10s and 242 laps led, with an average start of 17.6 and an average finish of 18.2. He also has qualified on the pole twice.
At Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Suárez started from his customary qualifying draw position of 37th and finished 26th, narrowly missing his fifth top-25 of the season. It was the third lead-lap finish of the season for his one-car team.
In his seventh career points-paying Cup Series start at Bristol on May 31, Suárez posted an 18th-place finish, his best so far in the No. 96 Toyota for GBR. His best career finish on the .533-mile, high-banked concrete oval was eighth in both of 2019 starts there in his Stewart-Haas entry, and a best starts of 12th in the August 2017 and April 2018 races in his Gibbs Toyota. He led five laps in the April 2018 race, in which he finished 11th. Suárez’s average Bristol start is 20.4 and average finish is 13.7.
Suárez has a pair of runner-up finishes and three other top-six results in six career NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Bristol. He finished second to Joey Logano in the April 2015 race and second to Kyle Busch in the August 2017 race. His best Xfinity Series start at Bristol is third in August 2016, the year he won the Xfinity Series championship. His average Bristol start in the series is 7.7 and his average finish is 8.0.
In his most recent NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Bristol in August 2016, Suárez started second and led 77 laps before an accident ended his day 16 laps from the finish. In his only other Truck Series start there in August 2015, he qualified 16th and finished 30th. Both Truck Series outings were with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Suárez competed from 2009 through 2014 in the NASCAR Peak Mexico Series. In 76 starts, he earned 10 victories, 26 top-five finishes, 39 top-10s and qualified on the pole 13 times. He had an average start of 8.7, an average finish of 12.4, led 1,216 laps, and had best finishes of second and third in the season standings in 2013 and 2012, respectively.
Crew chief Dave Winston, a native of Miami, Florida and a veteran of 77 Cup Series races atop the pit box, called the shots at one previous All-Star Open, when he and driver Alex Bowman started and finished 13th in the No. 23 BK Racing Toyota at Charlotte in 2014. He’s called four previous Cup Series points-paying races at Bristol prior to this year’s 18th-place run with Suárez on May 31. He collaborated with Bowman in the BK Racing Toyota in the April and August 2014 races, both of which ended up with 33rd-place finishes. His driver Michael McDowell finished 29th and 19th in the April and August 2016 races, respectively, for the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing entry.
The No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Toyota has 55 points-paying Cup Series starts since joining the series in 2018, and three at Bristol. Prior to the 18th-place finish May 31 with Suárez, both previous starts were in 2018, with driver D.J. Kennington starting 35th and finishing 27th in the April race, and Jesse Little starting 33rd and finishing 35th in the August race.
On May 11, GBR announced the addition of longtime motorsports veteran Nick Ollila as technical director. The native of Warren, Michigan, will oversee the team’s engineering department and returns to the United States after a three-year stint serving in the same capacity with Kelly Racing in the Virgin Australian Supercars Championship. Ollila and team owner Marty Gaunt first worked together in 1997 when the two were at Kranefuss-Haas Racing. Their NASCAR paths crossed again 10 years later when both worked at Red Bull Racing – Gaunt as general manager and Ollila as chief aerodynamicist. NASCAR is where Ollila has spent the bulk of his career, which includes being the drivetrain specialist at Rod Osterlund Racing in 1980 when Dale Earnhardt won the first of his seven Cup Series championships. Ollila’s racing career began at Team Penske in 1972 as a mechanic. He prepared cars for each of the series in which the organization competed, a lineup that included IndyCar, NASCAR, Can-Am, Formula 5000, sports cars and Formula One. NASCAR became Ollila’s focus in late 1976. He joined DiGard Racing as the team’s drivetrain specialist, working with NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip until the end of the 1978 season, whereupon he went to work for Osterlund. IndyCar and Penske beckoned in 1982, and Ollila returned as the team’s engine builder, enjoying four championships (1982, 1983, 1985 and 1988) and four Indianapolis 500 victories (1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988). That Penske connection led Ollila back to NASCAR in 1990, when he became the lead engineer for Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace. It was the beginning of a 20-year stint in NASCAR.
Coca-Cola and CommScope continue their respective partnerships with Suárez at Gaunt Brothers Racing. The iconic Coca-Cola brand has been with Suárez since 2015 when he won the Xfinity Series rookie-of-the-year title. CommScope, a leader in communication network technology, has been with Suárez through its ARRIS and Ruckus Networks brands since 2014, when he first competed in the Xfinity Series.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!