By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When the 62nd annual Daytona 500 takes the green flag on Sunday, the 40-car field will be without Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing.
The No. 96 team, looking to run their first full-time season with Suarez as their driver, failed to post a fast enough lap during qualifying last Sunday, leaving the team with their work cut out for them as they would have to race their way in during the first of Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” Suarez said earlier in the week of having to race his way in via the Duels. “That’s the reason why we didn’t build a Clash car. We knew it was going to be difficult to just put the best and greatest ever. We did the best we could with the time that we had.
“I mean, we’re in the point where we’re still looking for engineers, we’re still looking for one mechanic. We’re still looking to build a team. We are going to eventually build it. We have what it takes to do it. It’s just not easy to find the people around the corner. We are looking for the right people.
“My goal is to take this team, it was a team that nobody knew, it was a part‑time team, to a winning team in the future. That’s my goal. Really I’m going to work very hard to build it the right way.”
Despite the disadvantage that the Gaunt Brothers team found themselves in after their struggles in qualifying, Suarez looked to be in decent shape as Thursday’s race progressed, advancing into the top-10 at one point during the 60-lap race.
However things began to unravel quickly for the native of Monterrey, Mexico after making a green flag pit stop with his fellow Toyota drivers near the midpoint of the race.
As Suarez rode near the back of the pack consisting of the Ford drivers that had yet to make their pit stops, the drivers in front of him, including the Team Penske trio, started checking up to make their way onto pit road, forcing Suarez to have to take evasive action to avoid the slowing car of Brad Keselowski.
Just at that moment, he and Ryan Blaney, who was trying to get to pit road himself from the high lane, made contact, sending the two into the outside wall and into the infield grass. The front end of Suarez’s car was demolished, bringing his hopes of running in the Great American Race to an end.
“There was not communication,” Suarez said. “The 2 (Brad Keselowski) car all of a sudden started to slow down and obviously it was either wreck him or go to the right and I thought the 12 (Ryan Blaney) was going to give me a little more room, but obviously he didn’t.
“It’s extremely frustrating, honestly. All I want to do is go home…A lot of frustration and a broken heart. I’ve been working my ass off to make this happen and it doesn’t work.”
While Thursday night was heartbreaking for GBR and Suarez and the heartbreak will continue this weekend as they sit on the sidelines, they will have to pick up the pieces and try to rebound when the NASCAR Cup Series hits the road to start the West Coast Swing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.