MOORESVILLE, North Carolina (May 29, 2020) – It’s time for a little change of scenery for Daniel Suárez and the No. 96 It’s Good To Be Genuine Toyota Camry team for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR). After four races in the Carolinas during an 11-day stretch that ended a 70-day hiatus for the NASCAR Cup Series due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ll take to the concrete, high-banked, half-mile Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway oval for the some short-track racing.
Sunday’s Supermarket Heroes 500 marks the ninth race of 2020 for the Cup Series competitors and the fifth since the suspended schedule was resumed April 17 with the first of two consecutive races at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Suárez and his No. 96 Toyota finished 25th in NASCAR’s return to racing at Darlington, and followed it up with a 27th-place finish three days later in the first Wednesday-night Cup Series race in 36 years. They then moved to Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway for last Sunday night’s traditional Memorial Day-weekend Coca-Cola 600, followed by Thursday’s night’s Alsco Uniforms 500k, netting 28th-place results in both.
The fifth Cup Series race in the last two weeks takes Suárez and his It’s Good To Be Genuine Toyota Camry – a nod to its partner’s Parts & Service heritage – to one of his more successful racetracks. His history on the Bristol oval began in 2012 with his first of three NASCAR K&N Pro Series East outings – all in Toyota equipment. Suárez also has a pair of Bristol starts in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, six in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and six in the Cup Series. In his most recent Truck Series outing, he started second and led 77 laps before an accident ended his day 16 laps from the finish. His five top-six finishes in six Xfinity Series starts are highlighted by runner-up finishes to Joey Logano and Kyle Busch, respectively, in April 2015 and August 2017.
In last year’s two Bristol Cup Series races, Suárez brought home finishes of eighth in both, driving the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing entry, and he almost added another top-10 when he drove his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to an 11th-place finish there in April 2018. His average Cup Series finish at Bristol is 13.0, his average start 17.7. But Suárez will have to work hard to make forward progress from the wave of the green flag Sunday as he’ll start 37th on a grid for which the top 36 positions – all reserved for chartered teams – were decided Friday by random draw, and positions 37 through 40 – all non-chartered teams – lined up by car owner points.
No matter, Suárez is at his most comfortable when the battle is toughest, and he and his teammates look forward to the typical 500 laps of beating and banging among 40 competitors fighting for position in the tight quarters of the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway oval on Sunday afternoon in the hills of East Tennessee.
Daniel Suárez: Driver of the No. 96 It’s Good To Be Genuine Toyota Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing:
You’re coming off a pair of 28th-place finishes at Charlotte and are headed to Bristol. Your thoughts?
“Right now, it’s all about taking baby steps – baby steps. Obviously we have a lot of work to do to get where we are going and it’s not going to happen all in one race. It’s a process and it will continue to be a process until we get there. Everyone knows we started out behind in a lot of areas. We just need time. We need races. We need practice. We need a lot of things and we continue to work very hard. We’re not in the best position, but that is why we are all here, to try to do each of our jobs the best we can and to keep making our cars better and better. We have done a good job of keeping the cars in one piece and we continue to develop what we have.”
Bristol is one of your best tracks, results-wise, since you started racing there in the K&N East Series back in 2012. How do you like racing there?
“I like Bristol a lot. It’s a fun place to race – a lot of fun. When the stands are filled with fans, it’s one of the most exciting tracks we go to. It will be strange to race there with no fans. Like I said at Darlington and Charlotte, I hope it’s not something we get used to because we’re all about the fans. Bristol is especially fun when you have a fast racecar. We’ve been working hard to show up with a setup on our It’s Good To Be Genuine Toyota that is as good as possible and will make it fun for us on Sunday.”
You’ve normally started closer to the front at Bristol, but this time you’ll have to start 37th as the first of the non-chartered teams. How big of a challenge will that be?
“Starting 37th is a huge disadvantage at Bristol, but it is what it is. You start the race and you’re already half a lap down. I think it will be an even bigger challenge because we will not have practice and no qualifying. We’ll just do everything we can with what we have to work with and the challenges that we face and try and keep taking baby steps forward.”
No. 96 It’s Good To Be Genuine Toyota Camry Team Report
Race 9 of 36 – Supermarket Heroes 500 – Bristol
Car No. 96: It’s Good To Be Genuine 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
Supermarket Heroes 500 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 116th career NASCAR Cup Series start in Sunday’s Supermarket Heroes 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. He has career totals of eight top-five finishes, 32 top-10s and 241 laps led, with an average start of 16.2 and an average finish of 17.6. He also has qualified on the pole twice.
In six previous Cup Series outings on the .533-mile, high-banked concrete oval at Bristol, Suárez has best finishes of eighth in his two 2019 starts there in his Stewart-Haas Racing entry, and a best starts of 12th in the August 2017 and April 2018 races in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He led five laps in the April 2018 race, in which he finished 11th. Suárez’s average Bristol start is 17.7 and average finish is 13.0.
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 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 also has competed in three NASCAR K&N Pro Series East races at Bristol with a best start of 17th in his most recent outing in March 2014, and a best finish of 15th in his first race there in March 2012.
Crew chief Dave Winston, a native of Miami, Florida, and a veteran of 67 Cup Series races atop the pit box, has called the shots at four previous races at Bristol. He collaborated with driver Alex Bowman in the No. 23 BK Racing Toyota in the April and August 2014 races, both which ended up with 33rd-place finishes. The duo came back for the fall 2014 race and started 33rd and finished 30th. His driver Michael McDowell finished 29th and 19th in the April and August 2016 races, respectively, for the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing entry.
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.
Sunday marks the third Cup Series start at Bristol for the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Toyota. 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.
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.