Gaunt Brothers Racing made it official Tuesday that Daniel Suarez will drive the team’s No. 96 Toyota Camry in the Cup series this season.
The team, which has run a limited Cup schedule since 2017, will run the full season. Gaunt Brothers Racing will not have a charter.
“It’s great to be back with Toyota and back in the NASCAR Cup Series,” the 28-year-old Suárez said in a statement from the team. “My NASCAR career started off really well and Toyota was a very big part of that. To have them in my corner again gives me a lot of confidence. Gaunt Brothers Racing has something to prove and so do I. We’re committed to each other and we’re going to build each other up.”
This will be the fourth Cup season for Suarez. He won the 2016 Xfinity Series title before moving to Cup. He drove two seasons for Joe Gibbs Racing before moving to Stewart-Haas Racing for 2019. He was replaced by Cole Custer after last season. Suarez has yet to make the Cup playoffs.
Dave Winston will serve as Suárez’s crew chief. Winston was at Richard Childress Racing where he was vehicle performance group engineer and also the race engineer for Daniel Hemric. Winston has served as a crew chief before, spending 2014 at BK Racing with driver Alex Bowman and 2016 at Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing with driver Michael McDowell.
Coca-Cola and CommScope will continue their partnerships with Suarez. The team did not announce how many races those companies will be on the car.
“We’ve been working toward this moment since Gaunt Brothers Racing joined the Cup Series in 2017,” said Marty Gaunt, president, Gaunt Brothers Racing, in a statement. “We’ve made steady improvement every year, but bringing Daniel on board allows us to take a giant leap forward. We’re investing in each other. He’s not content to just be here and neither are we. We’ve been very strategic in everything we’ve done, and between our partnership with Toyota and the resources now available to us, we can take that next step and deliver for Daniel and all of our partners.”
Suarez told reporters Tuesday in a conference call with reporters that “in the last couple of weeks, I have been going to bed thinking that my goal is to take Gaunt Brothers Racing … that some people know as a part-time team, to a winning team. That is going to happen. It’s going to take some time but it’s going to happen.”
Gaunt said Tuesday night in a conference call with reporters that Toyota Racing Development will provide all the engines for the team. TRD provides engines for Joe Gibbs Racing and Leavine Family Racing.
Gaunt said that acquiring a charter remains a priority for the organization. A charter guarantees a team a starting position in each race.
“It’s top of mine,” Gaunt said of the goal of acquiring a charter. “We made some phone calls, unfortunately there is not a charter available at the present time but it is high on our priority list. If one comes available we’ll be the first person to be at that table to have those conversations.”
Suarez replaces NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman, who ran 14 of the team’s 15 races last season.
A NASCAR Sprint Cup team was the victim of a cyber attack earlier this year and paid a ransom to retrieve valuable information.
Since the attack, the No. 95 Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing team has partnered with Malwarebytes, a malware prevention and remediation solution company.
The team stated in a release that computers with track data from races and test facilities and personnel information were infected. Those responsible demanded the team pay a ransom within 48 hours or lose their data.
The team valued the information being held hostage — car part lists, custom high-profile simulation setups, etc. — at $2 million. The team stated that it would have taken 1,500 man-hours to recreate the information.
“Just knowing that we could lose everything that we had worked so hard to achieve was terrifying,” crew chief Dave Winston said in a team release. “The data that they were threatening to take from us was priceless, we couldn’t go one day without it greatly impacting the team’s future success. This was a completely foreign experience for all of us, and we had no idea what to do. What we did know was that if we didn’t get the files back, we would lose years worth of work valued at millions of dollars.”
After paying the ransom, the team sought a company to protect its computer data. After running and installing Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, the company found and eliminated malware infection from more than 10,000 files.
“Like most companies, we felt we had solid security in place on our digital intelligence with our software and firewalls, but this is a very new threat,” said Jeremy Lange, vice president at Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing. “It’s an area of coverage that you don’t realize you need until it happens to you. We’re lucky that it all worked out, and now having this partnership with Malwarebytes, we hope to inform NASCAR fans and the industry of this threat and the solution.”
Ty Dillon and Michael McDowell each will be entered by Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing for the Daytona 500, the team announced Thursday morning.
Dillon will drive the No. 95 car, which will be guaranteed a starting spot in the field because the team’s charter is attached to that car. His car will be sponsored by Cheerios and Kroger. Todd Parrott will be his crew chief.
McDowell will drive the No. 59 car sponsored by Thrivent Financial/K-Love Radio. Dave Winston will be his crew chief. McDowell will vie for one of four open spots in the 40-car field because the team does not have a charter for that car.
Dillon finished 28th in his Daytona 500 debut last year. He’s finished in the top 10 in two of his five Xfinity starts at Daytona International Speedway.
“The Daytona 500 is such a prestigious race and it’s an incredible honor to be able to compete on this stage,” Dillon said in a team release. “Last season I learned a lot and experienced a lot. I got to race up front with the leaders, raced in the back, had some damage we had to repair and eventually finished 28th. This season, we’re going to go out there like any other team and try to win the race.”
McDowell is seeking to make his fifth start in the Daytona 500. He finished ninth in the 2013 race.
“I think it’s a good track in that it allows any team to have a shot at running well,” McDowell said in a team release. “It’s one of the ‘opportunity’ races for our team to run up front and finish well.” The changes that we made in off season — switching to Chevrolet and aligning with RCR — has provided us with, by far, the best equipment, car and motor combination that we’ve ever brought to a superspeedway. It’s pretty exciting because we’ve had good results at superspeedways in the past. Hands down this is the best car we’ve ever brought to Daytona.”
The team announced last month that Dillon and McDowell will share driving duties in the No. 95 car this season. McDowell will run a majority of the races in the car.
The recent merger of Circle Sport and Leavine Family Racing is starting to pay dividends.
The combined Concord, North Carolina-based team announced Thursday that it has named NASCAR veteran Dave Winston as crew chief for the No. 95 Chevrolet SS driven by Michael McDowell.
In addition, Jeremy Lange has been promoted to Vice President of Race Team Operations. He previously had directed marketing efforts for Leavine Family Racing the past two seasons.
Winston will oversee operation of the No. 95, which plans on racing the entire Sprint Cup schedule this season. Winston has spent 15 years in NASCAR, starting as a team engineer with Roush Fenway Racing.
He’s worked with a number of drivers including Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray. According to a team release, Winston has been a part of 18 wins, seven poles, 51 top-5 and 118 top-10 finishes.
“Dave is a perfect fit for our team having worked at both large and small organizations,” team partner Bob Leavine said in a statement. “He understands the budget constraints of a small team but knows what is required to make the team more competitive.
“I really like his engineering background as that is a key factor in our alliance with RCR (Richard Childress Racing). … Dave is very organized and has already gained the respect of our staff in a short period of time. I’m really proud to have him on our team.”