By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The quest of to the 62nd Daytona 500 for Gaunt Brothers Racing began Tuesday as they finally confirmed Daniel Suarez will be piloting the No. 96 Toyota Camry with Coca-Cola and CommScope being his primary backings.
Not only they’re working 24/7 on preparing a competitive car for “The Great American Race” (February 16), but they must either be among the fastest two non-charter teams in qualifying (February 9) or race their way in (February 13) as its the team’s first ever crack on a full-time NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
Due to this massive hurdle, they’ve opted to forgo the Busch Clash (February 9) as the former Xfinity Series champion won a pole at Kentucky when he previously drove for Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 41 Ford Mustang, now driven by rookie Cole Custer.
With just less than two weeks until Speedweeks, Suarez is excited to have a ride as it marks his return to Toyota, where outside of 2019, spent his entire national touring career with the dominant brand.
“It’s great to be back with Toyota and back in the NASCAR Cup Series,” Suarez said. “My NASCAR career started off really well and Toyota was a very big part of that. To have them in my corner again gives me a lot of confidence. Gaunt Brothers Racing has something to prove and so do I. We’re committed to each other and we’re going to build each other up.”
GBR owner Marty Gaunt said signing the determined 28-year-old and going full-time has been something they’ve been waiting to do since entering the Cup scene in 2017 as both are not settling for less.
“We’ve made steady improvement every year, but bringing Daniel on board allows us to take a giant leap forward,” Gaunt said. “We’re investing in each other. He’s not content to just be here and neither are we. We’ve been very strategic in everything we’ve done, and between our partnership with Toyota and the resources now available to us, we can take that next step and deliver for Daniel and all of our partners.”
Suarez replaces Parker Kligerman, who confirmed earlier this month that he won’t be back with the team after two seasons. At the moment, Kligerman’s NASCAR career is unknown as the only gig he has within the sport is being a pit reporter for NBC Sports.
On top of Suarez’s pit box will be former Richard Childress Racing engineer Dave Winston, who has spent time calling shots for Alex Bowman and Michael McDowell over the years.
Being from Mexico, Tuesday’s confirmation marks Suarez as the third full-time racer from the country as Formula One’s Sergio Perez and INDYCAR’s Pato O’Ward are also competing the entire season at their respective disciplines. The most from Mexico has seen in nearly 15 years.