MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Daniel Suárez’s No. 96 Today. Tomorrow. Toyota Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) gets a “Red, White & Blue” facelift as he and his teammates join their fellow NASCAR Cup Series competitors for the series’ annual 600 Miles of Remembrance during Sunday night’s 61st renewal of the iconic Coca-Cola 600.
And the 28-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico, and his GBR brethren are proud to be honoring the memory of U.S. Army SPC Ronald David Rennison of Dubuque, Iowa, who was killed in action Feb. 25, 1991 along with 27 other individuals by a Scud missile strike in Dhahran in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Rennison’s name will appear on the windshield of Suarez’s No. 96 Today. Tomorrow. Toyota Camry (Red, White & Blue Edition) at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway as part of NASCAR’s remembrance of the men and women who gave their lives in active duty service defending our country. Fallen service members will be honored by featuring their names on the windshield of each NASCAR Cup Series car at Charlotte.
There is a personal connection between SPC Rennison, who was 22 at the time of his death, and the GBR Toyota team. His younger brother Randy was a high school friend of GBR road crew mechanic Barry Boeckenstedt. Randy Rennison served in the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps and was stationed in Korea at the time of his brother’s death. The Rennisons are part of a long line of family members who have served or are currently active military. Randy Rennison retired in 2015 and now serves as executive director of the Dubuque County Veterans Affairs office.
It was a short time after SPC Rennison was called to active duty a second time – following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait – that he was killed in action. He and his 475th Quartermaster Unit had just arrived in Saudi Arabia the day before the missile attack.
Suárez hopes to post his and GBR’s best finish to date in this, the team’s first full-time Cup Series season since it joined the NASCAR ranks a decade ago, while honoring the memory of SPC Rennison. In the series’ first racing events after the season was suspended for 10 weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Suárez and the No. 96 Today. Tomorrow. Toyota Camry posted finishes of 25th Sunday and 27th Wednesday night at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Those events introduced NASCAR’s new comprehensive health and safety plan that permits no fans, limited crew, strict social distancing, and mandated personal protective equipment and health screenings for all. The races also were run without prior practice or qualifying. Sunday night’s 600-miler at Charlotte will be the first and only event in the first batch of races since the hiatus that will be preceded by a qualifying session in the afternoon.
Taking another step forward in the evolution of his one-car team with ultimately high expectations is the goal for Suárez as he prepares to tackle one of the most grueling races on the NASCAR calendar, all while showing his deepest respect for the men and women who have paid the ultimate price for freedom.
Daniel Suárez: Driver of the No. 96 Today. Tomorrow Toyota. Camry (Red, White & Blue Edition) for Gaunt Brothers Racing:
Your thoughts about honoring SPC Ronald David Rennison on your Toyota at the Charlotte races, and about what the 600 Miles of Remembrance initiative means to you?
“My thought on that is that I have a lot of respect for people like Specialist Rennison who serve our country and protect us, and especially the ones who pay the ultimate price like he did. I’m very proud to be part of a sport that gives so much respect to the service members. Specialist Rennison is the brother of a high school friend of one of our road crew guys (Barry Boeckenstedt), which makes him part of the Gaunt Brothers Racing family, so to honor him this weekend gives our team a direct connection to our fallen hero. I’m very happy to be racing this weekend with such special meaning, and a very special red, white and blue Toyota paint scheme to honor America, and we’re looking forward to carrying the name of a special soldier, also.”
What are you looking forward to when you get to Charlotte Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600?
“I’m very happy that we are having it on its originally scheduled day. The other two races we’ve had so far were make-up races. I’m very happy that NASCAR is making all of this effort. I have a lot of respect for everything they’ve been doing and the way they’ve been easing us back into our season and actually helping to carry the trend of getting things back to normal. It’s very important to me that we are part of the world slowly getting back to normal, even though we are just a small part of the world as a racing series. The Coca-Cola 600 will definitely have a different feel this year. The first two races have been very different. They feel more like practice than like a race as far as the atmosphere. But there is a definitely a lot on the line and we will go out there and do our jobs. This is the world we are in right now and we are one of the lucky sports to be able to be out there doing what we love to do. We need to keep doing it the same way we did the first two races and hope everyone stays healthy, and we’re hoping soon that many other sports are going to be able to get back to action.”
How would you assess the team’s first two races back since the shutdown?
“I actually felt good after the Darlington race Wednesday night. The car felt like it had more potential. It’s not a top-20 car, yet, but it was better than Sunday’s car that finished 25th. That’s what we’re looking for. That’s what I’m looking for. It doesn’t matter how much, just as long as we keep improving. That will bring us more and more speed, eventually. It’s been a step in the right direction. We’ve had some good, important meetings where we talked through all the things we’ve learned so far and where we need to go from here. I feel if we keep up the improvement, we’re going to end up getting better and better. Hopefully Charlotte is another step in the right direction and we keep improving.”
The Coca-Cola 600 will be the first and only race where there is a qualifying session before the race among this first batch of races since returning from the shutdown. How important is qualifying for a race as long as the Coca-Cola 600, especially when the cars are impounded between qualifying and the race?
“Personally, I like qualifying. I think it’s good. Obviously, we’re a non-chartered team, so we’re always at a disadvantage when there’s no qualifying and there are more than 40 cars (on the entry list). I’m not sure how many there will be for Sunday, yet, but I always like the chance for us to be able to go out and earn our own starting position.”
The Coca-Cola 600 is such a long race. How do you prepare for it?
“As a human being you try and perform at 100 percent the entire time but, when you’re running a marathon, you’re not going to be as strong in the last 30 minutes. That’s normal. Fatigue is setting in, your muscles are tired, you’re running out of fluid, and you’re hungry. Racing is the same way, especially in the Coca-Cola 600. We start running out of energy and your mind gets tired after four hours of racing. But I look to this race as a marathon and you have to be on top of your game for the last part of this race. So I always try to keep that in my mind when I’m in the car. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
What hurts the most after the Coca-Cola 600?
“It’s a combination of things. Your neck is tired, your lower back is tired, legs are tired and you’re just fatigued. You definitely feel it the next morning after a 600-mile race. You feel like you worked out a lot the day before, and you did inside the car. Two and a half of these 600-mile races and I could be home in Monterrey, Mexico. It’s crazy to think of it that way.”
No. 96 Today. Tomorrow. Toyota Camry (Red, White & Blue Edition) Team Report
Race 7 of 36 – Coca-Cola 600 – Charlotte
Car No. 96: Today. Tomorrow. Toyota Camry (Red, White & Blue Edition)
Driver: Daniel Suárez
Hometown: Monterrey, Mexico
Crew Chief: Dave Winston
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Technical Director: Nick Ollila
Hometown: Warren, Michigan
Car Chief: Mark Hillman
Hometown: Lockport, New York
Engine Specialist: Kirk Butterfield
Hometown: Carrollton, Ohio
Engine Builder: Toyota Racing Development
Headquarters: Costa Mesa, California
Spotter: Steve Barkdoll
Hometown: Garrison, Iowa
Gas Man: Cory White
Hometown: Vinson, Iowa
Front Tire Changer: Mike Mead
Hometown: Sherrills Ford, North Carolina
Rear Tire Changer: Brandon Traino
Hometown: Cherry Hill, New Jersey
Tire Carrier: Mason Harris
Hometown: Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia
Jackman: Joel Bouagnon
Hometown: St. Charles, Illinois
Windshield: Mark Hillman
Hometown: Lockport, New York
- Coca-Cola 600 Notes of Interest:
After piloting the No. 19 NASCAR Cup Series Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017 and 2018, then the No. 41 Cup Series entry for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2019, Suárez joined the single-car No. 96 Toyota Camry effort for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) for the full 2020 season.
- Suárez will be attempting to make his 114th career NASCAR Cup Series start in Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway oval. He has career totals of eight top-five finishes, 32 top-10s and 241 laps led, with an average start of 15.8 and an average finish of 17.4. He also has qualified on the pole twice.
- In four previous Cup Series outings on the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval, Suárez has a best start of sixth in last year’s Coca-Cola 600 in his Stewart-Haas Racing entry, and a best finish of sixth in the fall 2017 race in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. His average Charlotte oval start and finish is 12.5.
- Suárez has a pair of top-fives and another pair of top-10 finishes in five career NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Charlotte. He qualified on the pole and led 111 laps before finishing eighth in the fall 2017 race in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and has a best finish of third in the fall 2016 race en route to that year’s Xfinity Series championship.
- In his lone career NASCAR Gander Outdoors & RV Truck Series race at Charlotte, Suárez started seventh, led six laps and finished 23rd in his Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra in the spring 2016 race.
- Crew chief Dave Winston, a native of Miami, Florida, and a veteran of 65 Cup Series races atop the pit box, called the shots at three previous races at Charlotte. He collaborated with driver Alex Bowman in the No. 23 BK Racing Toyota in the spring 2014 race, starting 29th and finishing 33rd. The duo came back for the fall 2014 race and started 33rd and finished 30th. His driver Michael McDowell started 32nd and finished 34th in the spring 2016 race driving the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing entry.
- On May 11, GBR announced the addition of longtime motorsports veteran Nick Ollila as technical director. The native of Warren, Michigan, will oversee the team’s engineering department and returns to the United States after a three-year stint serving in the same capacity with Kelly Racing in the Virgin Australian Supercars Championship. Ollila and team owner Marty Gaunt first worked together in 1997 when the two were at Kranefuss-Haas Racing. Their NASCAR paths crossed again 10 years later when both worked at Red Bull Racing – Gaunt as general manager and Ollila as chief aerodynamicist. NASCAR is where Ollila has spent the bulk of his career, which includes being the drivetrain specialist at Rod Osterlund Racing in 1980 when Dale Earnhardt won the first of his seven Cup Series championships. Ollila’s racing career began at Team Penske in 1972 as a mechanic. He prepared cars for each of the series in which the organization competed, a lineup that included IndyCar, NASCAR, Can-Am, Formula 5000, sports cars and Formula One. NASCAR became Ollila’s focus in late 1976. He joined DiGard Racing as the team’s drivetrain specialist, working with NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip until the end of the 1978 season, whereupon he went to work for Osterlund. IndyCar and Penske beckoned in 1982, and Ollila returned as the team’s engine builder, enjoying four championships (1982, 1983, 1985 and 1988) and four Indianapolis 500 victories (1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988). That Penske connection led Ollila back to NASCAR in 1990, when he became the lead engineer for Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace. It was the beginning of a 20-year stint in NASCAR.
- Sunday night marks the third Cup Series start on the Charlotte oval for the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Toyota. Driver Parker Kligerman drove to 27th-place finish from the 32nd starting position there in the 2018 Coca-Cola 600, and to a 26th-place finish from the 34th starting position in last year’s Coca-Cola 600.
- Coca-Cola and CommScope continue their respective partnerships with Suárez at Gaunt Brothers Racing. The iconic Coca-Cola brand has been with Suárez since 2015 when he won the Xfinity Series rookie-of-the-year title. CommScope, a leader in communication network technology, has been with Suárez through its ARRIS and Ruckus Networks brands since 2014, when he first competed in the Xfinity Series.
— True Speed Communication