How was 2020 different from any other NASCAR Cup Series season Gaunt Brothers Racing competed in since 2017? The No. 96 Toyota Camry was in the field for every race. Well, almost.
Despite missing the 2020 Daytona 500 due to a devastating wreck with Ryan Blaney in the tri-oval during one of two qualifying 150-milers, GBR made the rounds on the circuit as a full-time team for the first time in their brief history in the Cup Series, with Daniel Suarez a first-year driver for the team.
Compared to GBR’s past efforts, some were optimistic about the 2020 season when Suarez was announced as the driver – and rightfully so, as the fledgling team had itself a former Xfinity Series champion in Suarez. He came from a one-season run with Stewart-Haas Racing after spending time with Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 19 Arris Toyota. GBR brought in major sponsorship with Suarez – Coca-Cola and CommScope — with other sponsors on the hood during the season including Team USA and Toyota.
But despite a championship-caliber driver, the team’s results didn’t improve by leaps and bounds as some predicted — and a big part of that was when the No. 96 missed the season-opening Daytona 500.
That said, GBR brought home three top-20 finishes, with two 18th-place results at Bristol Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway. Suarez’s season was also highlighted by the two superspeedways with two commendable performances – he worked his way to the front of the pack at the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway in August, leading for 19 laps, the first for the team. At Talladega Superspeedway in October, Suarez boasted a highest running position of second before a disappointing 13-car accident ended his day.
It’s important to note, however, that Suarez’s eventual DNF at Talladega was just his second — and last — of the season. Though his finishes may not have always been where Suarez was used to, he was nonetheless able to keep his car clean to the point where he was running at the finish, even if he was sometimes a lap or more down while doing so.
All told, Suarez scored an average finish of 26.6 in his 35 starts. Compare that to GBR’s two main previous drivers, Parker Kligerman and DJ Kennington, whose highlights were generally at the superspeedways, while Suarez was able to boost the organization’s performance at tracks outside Daytona and Talladega.
Suarez concluded his last race with GBR with a 31st-place finish in Phoenix Raceway; by that point, it was known that he was moving on, joining a brand-new team in 2021 while GBR searches for a replacement.
Taking a look at Suarez’s numbers, his brief one-season tenure with GBR was not more successful than his previous three years with other teams. During the 2019 season with Stewart-Haas Racing, Suarez recorded four top-five finishes – the most Suarez has claimed in his cup career. He concluded the season with 11 top 10s and one pole at the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. GBR did not record any top-five or top-10 finishes with Suarez, nor did he secure a pole position.
That said, a slip was expected given the lack of funded equipment compared to SHR and JGR at GBR. It’s difficult to fully compare the three tenures for Suarez as a result, but a 26.6 average is not awful for a smaller team — especially considering that his averages at SHR and JGR were generally no more than 10 positions higher.
In 2021, Suarez moves to Trackhouse Racing Team and its No. 99, slotting him in yet another lesser-funded organization, albeit one seemingly with capital behind it that clearly enticed him — not to mention the fact that Trackhouse has a charter and therefore a guaranteed spot in every race, something GBR did not have.
GBR’s plans for 2021, meanwhile, have not yet been announced, with the organization still without a charter. The team has maintained an active presence on social media, which indicates that it at least plans some sort of involvement in NASCAR next year.