Even before the start of this year’s NASCAR Cup Series season, Sunday’s YellaWood 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway was one of the races circled on the calendar of Daniel Suárez, driver of the No. 96 Team USA Toyota for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR).
And after his and the team’s performance at Talladega’s sister track Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway at last month’s Coke Zero Sugar 400, safe to say Suárez and his GBR teammates went back and circled this weekend’s race date a second time, rightfully so.
The superspeedways at Daytona and Talladega have been the strongest suit for the single-car GBR Toyota team since it joined the elite Cup Series ranks as a part-time team in 2017 and this year took on the full, 36-race schedule with Suárez for the first time. In the team’s 67 races since its maiden Cup Series voyage at the hands of Canadian driver D.J. Kennington in the 2017 Daytona 500, four of its best six finishes have come on the two iconic superspeedway ovals.
Kennington’s 13th-place run in the 2018 Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona ranks best, followed by a pair of 15th-place finishes by Parker Kligerman in last year’s Daytona 500 and fall Talladega races, respectively. Kennington scored another top-20 finish in the No. 96 GBR Toyota at the spring 2018 Talladega race, which ranks sixth-best for the team.
Sandwiched between those superspeedway results at the top of the GBR Cup Series performance chart are Suárez’s pair of 18th-place finishes this year at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway the last day of May and at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City in mid-July.
As they head to the high-banked, 2.66-mile Talladega oval for Sunday’s 500-mile race, Suárez and his GBR teammates are buoyed by their strong run at Daytona five weekends ago. In the team’s best outing of the season, its 28-year-old, fourth-year Cup Series driver from Monterrey, Mexico raced at or near the front of the pack for a majority of the night before getting caught up in a multicar accident five laps from the finish. He drove to the front during the middle stages of the race and led 19 laps, fourth-most in the race and the first green-flag laps led by GBR in the Cup Series. Suárez also scored his highest marks of the season in most every statistical category, including an average running position of 17.44, 51 laps running in the top-15, 239 green-flag passes, and 77 quality passes.
So it should come as no surprise Suárez and his GBR brethren have eagerly anticipated the season’s final superspeedway event at Talladega. As they did last weekend on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval, where they finished 29th, they’ll sport an Olympic theme showcasing Toyota’s proud partnership of Team USA, with logos on the racecar’s deck lid of 17 U.S. national governing bodies and high performance management organizations, whose journeys to the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo and beyond have been extended by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Suárez and company certainly plan on putting forth an Olympian effort Sunday with another competitive superspeedway outing.