It’s always a good thing when a racecar driver and his crew chief are in agreement.
There’s certainly one thing Daniel Suárez, driver of the No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR), and his crew chief Dave Winston can agree on – that Homestead-Miami Speedway is a very special place.
The 1.5-mile South Florida oval, which hosted NASCAR’s season-ending race weekend for 18 consecutive years from 2002 through last November, is where Suárez first made history by clinching the 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year title, then further etched his name into the history books by winning the 2016 Xfinity Series championship. Both are firsts for a Mexican-born driver in a NASCAR national series.
For Winston, who graduated from Southwest Miami Senior High School just up the road and earned his mechanical engineering degree at Florida Atlantic University, the annual Homestead stop on the tour has been a welcome opportunity to check in with friends and family ever since he joined the NASCAR ranks in 2000.
In the 2015 Xfinity Series finale, Suárez drove his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to a sixth-place finish from his outside-front-row starting spot to edge Bubba Wallace for the rookie title. One year later, the native of Monterrey, Mexico, left little doubt about his championship mettle as he qualified his Toyota on the pole, led seven times for a race-high 133 of 200 laps, and won the race by .968 of a second over Ty Dillon.
Homestead is also where Winston got his first taste of a NASCAR championship when he helped engineer Greg Biffle’s 2002 Xfinity Series title run for Roush-Fenway Racing, sealing the deal at the South Florida track with a fourth-place finish in that year’s finale. The following year, Biffle and Winston were both promoted to Roush-Fenway’s No. 16 Cup Series team, which scored 11 wins over the next three seasons, including a six-win campaign in 2005 that resulted in a second-place finish in the final standings. Winston is particularly proud of three of those wins, which came back-to-back-to-back at Homestead in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
In the years since, he’s been back at Homestead as lead engineer with a variety of drivers and teams, including Brian Vickers and Red Bull Racing – where, coincidentally, he was first hired by GBR team owner Marty Gaunt, who was Red Bull’s general manager at the time. Winston also worked at Homestead with Kurt Busch and Team Penske, Jamie McMurray and Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, and most recently Paul Menard and Daniel Hemric and Richard Childress Racing. Winston’s only previous visit to Homestead as a Cup Series crew chief was in 2014, when he worked with driver Alex Bowman at BK Racing for the full season.
This weekend, Suárez, Winston and the Cup Series tour pay their first-ever visit to Homestead during the month of June. Sunday afternoon’s Dixie Vodka 400 was originally set for March 22, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced a 10-week suspension of the NASCAR schedule. It will be the series’ eighth event since the schedule was resumed May 17, and the 12th event together for Suárez and Winston, who joined the single-car No. 96 GBR Toyota team in January for the first full Cup Series campaign in its 10-year history.
Coming off Wednesday night’s gritty 27th-place finish at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where drivers including Suárez had to deal with the most extreme cockpit temperatures in recent memory, they’ll hope to take another step forward in the evolution of their full-season program with another clean run in the South Florida sunshine Sunday afternoon.
Winston, whose dad owned a Late Model team that raced primarily at the now-shuttered Hialeah Speedway when he was a little boy, would love nothing more than to post the No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry team’s best finish of the season on his home track. And Suárez is ready to continue doing his part.
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