Entering the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona on Thursday (Feb. 13), all eyes were on Daniel Suarez and his new team, Gaunt Brothers Racing. The No. 96 Toyota team, an open car, needed to race their way into Sunday’s Daytona 500 with their new driver.
Unfortunately for the Mexico native, Suarez’s night ended early with a wreck at the halfway point. Suarez, who began the Duel 19th, raced inside the top 10 during the opening portion of the event. On lap 23, every Chevrolet in the field pitted, followed by the Toyotas — which included Suarez — the following lap.
When the Toyotas stopped, Martin Truex Jr. missed his pit stall, separating the quartet of drivers. Denny Hamlin got out far ahead, picking up the Chevrolet draft, while Suarez and Christopher Bell left pit road together.
On the following lap, Bell side-drafted Suarez, enabling the No. 95 car to remain up ahead. Suarez fell back into a group of Fords running together, losing a lap and his momentum in the draft. Then, on lap 30, when the Blue Oval group was coming to pit, Suarez got tangled up with Ryan Blaney. The two cars crashed, ending both Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing’s chances of making the 2020 Daytona 500.
“It’s extremely frustrating, honestly,” Suarez said following the incident. “All I want to do is go home. I don’t know if the [No.] 2 was going to pit or everyone was going to pit, I don’t know what the deal is.
“The [No.] 2 got his hand out of the window on the exit of [turn] 4 and when I saw that he started slowing down and then I moved to the right to avoid him and the [No.] 12 just didn’t give me enough room. All of those last calls, secret calls, whatever they want to call it, just don’t work.”
As of mid-January, Suarez didn’t have a ride for the 2020 season. However, Gaunt Brothers Racing added the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion to its stable, hoping to run the full season for the first time in the team’s brief history.
Running 36 races will have to wait for another year, as the team will miss its first Daytona 500 in four tries.
The DNQ left Suarez crestfallen.
“A lot of frustration,” he said, “[And a] broken heart because I’ve been working my ass off to try and make this happen and it just doesn’t work.”
He will likely even be more disappointed as Blaney took blame for the incident due to a lack of communication.
“I had no idea we were pitting,” Blaney told Frontstretch after the race. “The [No.] 96 apparently blended in with us after they already pitted, and so we were trying to get around him through [turns] 3 and 4 and I had no idea we were pitting. All of a sudden, all of my Ford guys come to pit road and we all planned to come to pit road together and didn’t know the [No.] 96 blended. I thought he was just another car, a part of our group.
“There was a lot going on. I should have just kept going, but there was a lot going on. I hate it took Daniel out and [he’s] not going to make the race. [There’s] a couple of things we’ve got to do a little better.”
As for Blaney, the No. 12 Ford received a bunch of damage to the right front. The car was “really slow,” and the team has chosen to switch to a backup car for Sunday’s race.
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