It’s short-track time for Daniel Suárez and the No. 96 T-TEN Toyota Camry team for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) as the NASCAR Cup Series heads to back-to-back Saturday-night races under the lights, beginning this weekend at Richmond (Va.) Raceway.
The Federated Auto Parts 400 marks the season’s first visit to the fast, three-quarter-mile oval, which is typically not the case this time of year for the Cup Series competitors. But the COVID-19 pandemic led this year’s traditional spring Richmond race to be moved to Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in May. With no practice or qualifying having become the norm since the Cup Series returned from a 10-week suspension of the schedule due to the pandemic, showing up race-ready will again be of utmost importance for Suárez and his fellow competitors come Saturday night.
With no practice or qualifying, drivers and their teams have had to rely on technology more heavily than any previous season to prepare their racecars and their strategies since the return to racing in May. Technology and preparation are also hallmarks of the program called T-TEN, which is the acronym for Toyota’s Technician Training & Education Network. Since 1986, T-TEN has partnered Toyota Motor North America with community and technical colleges with a focus on industry standards and hands-on skills training. Its mission is to provide a consistent source of talented, career-minded, trained, certified and committed entry-level service technicians for the more than 1,500 Toyota and Lexus dealerships across the country. In the last three years alone, some 1,200 individuals have completed all program requirements with 90 percent finding employment in a Toyota or Lexus dealership.
Suárez will proudly sport the T-TEN logo throughout his No. 96 Camry on Saturday night, and looks to post a solid result at Richmond in his 28th race weekend since joining the single-car team in January for its first season running the full schedule since joining the Cup Series ranks as a part-time team in 2017.
They’re coming off their eighth top-25 finish of the season Sunday night at Darlington, and head to the Richmond oval where Suárez has enjoyed strong runs the last several years in his six previous outings each in the Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series, the latter where he was 2015 Rookie of the Year and 2016 series champion driving Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas. He’s scored three top-10 finishes in his six previous Cup Series starts at Richmond, to go with a top-five and three top-10s in the Xfinity Series.
With a good grasp on how to get around the Richmond layout successfully, Suárez hopes he and his GBR team led by crew chief Dave Winston can score a mark of 10 – on a scale of one to T-TEN – come Saturday night in the Capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Daniel Suárez: Driver of the No. 96 T-TEN Toyota Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing:
You’re headed to a couple of what you would call “driver’s tracks” starting Saturday night at Richmond, and then next week at Bristol. Your thoughts on what’s next up on the schedule?
“I’ve always liked racing at Richmond. I feel it’s a good track for me and I have had some pretty good results there the last several years in Cup and Xfinity. It’s a track where you really have to work hard to take care of your car all through the run because you can use it up pretty quickly. That’s important pretty much everywhere we race, but it’s especially important at Richmond. This will be our first race there this season, so it will be important to show up with a good T-TEN Toyota Camry and keep improving as the night goes on. We are proud to represent Toyota’s T-TEN program Saturday night. They’ve prepared thousands of future service technicians for Toyota and Lexus dealers for almost 30 years, and it’s a great way to let young people out there know where they can find a very rewarding career.”
What have you found to be the biggest challenges of being part of a single-car team?
“That’s a very hard question because I felt like this year hasn’t been like any other year that I’ve been here, for anybody out there, so I don’t feel like I’m comparing apples with apples. I can say that a single-car team, if you have good people and good equipment, you can be extremely strong because you have all the focus on one car. When you have three, four cars, there are some drivers who are better than the others, there are pit crews that are better than the others, you have to put your energy into all of your cars, but always keeping in mind that one is the main and one is the second and one is third and so on. When you have a one-car team, you know everybody wants you to be the one because you are the only one. So that could be something extremely good. The bad part is probably that you are not getting as much information, when you’re a new team and you’re trying to build a notebook and you’re trying to get as much information as possible. And when you don’t have practice and you don’t have track time, that’s a big hit because you are just guessing and trying to put in the car whatever the computer is telling you without actually practicing on it. So, it’s a little bit challenging in the position that we are today, but I feel like in the long run it can be something good. It’s something that fits well with myself and all the experiences I’ve had in the past.”
No. 96 T-TEN Toyota Camry Team Report
Race 28 – Federated Auto Parts 400 – Richmond
Car No. 96: T-TEN 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: Bailey Walker
Hometown: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Windshield: Mark Hillman
Hometown: Lockport, New York
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!