TODAY’S SCHEDULE Dustin — Work Daniel — OFF TODAY’S POSTS 7 a.m. — Power Rankings 10 a.m. — Todd Gilliland appreciates first Truck playoff appearance 1 p.m. — Ryan Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto need to make NASCAR history to advance in playoffs TODAY’S MEDIA SESSIONS 1:30 p.m. — Johnny Klausmeier, crew chief for Clint Bowyer
Daniel Suarez, Gaunt Brothers Racing to part ways after season
Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing have agreed to part ways after this season, the team announced Tuesday.
Suarez will drive for the team through the end of the season.
“The entire team is very appreciative of the effort Daniel has put forth. He has helped build the foundation we need for next season as well as 2022 when the NextGen car arrives,” said Marty Gaunt, president and CEO of Gaunt Brothers Racing, in a statement. “We’re both committed to earning as many points as possible in these last eight races together and finishing the season strong.”
Said Suarez in a statement: “I’m extremely thankful to my entire Toyota family for everything they have done for me, especially this year. I will always be grateful to them for having my back. Marty and everyone at Gaunt Brothers Racing invest a lot of time and effort into this race team and I’m proud to have been a part of it. I have given 100 percent of myself to this team since day one, and I will continue to give 100 percent until the last lap at Phoenix. My goal has always been to win races and championships, and that will never change.”
Suarez joined the team in late January. His best finish this year is 18th at Bristol and Kansas. The series heads to Bristol this weekend (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN).
Suarez now seeks his fourth different Cup team in a four-year stretch.
He moved to Cup in 2017 at Joe Gibbs Racing after Carl Edwards suddenly retired. Suarez raced for JGR in 2018 and was replaced for the 2019 season by Martin Truex Jr. after Furniture Row Racing shut down.
Suarez went to Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2019 season but was not retained. He was replaced by rookie Cole Custer, who is in the playoffs this season.
Suarez then went to Gaunt Brothers Racing, which is in its first full-time season and does not have a charter.
No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.
No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto is in a contract year at Wood Brothers Racing. He said Sept. 10: “When I came to the team, everyone expressed that they wanted this to be a long-term relationship that we build for a long time to come, that my contract was a long-time opportunity, obviously those options have to be picked up by the team side. We haven’t really talked about it much. I want to stick around here and call this home for a long time to come. Hopefully, find out here soon.”
Although Toyota has won four of 12 Cup races this season, including the past two, the president of Toyota Racing Development used the words “embarrassing,” “dog crap” and “unacceptable” in discussing a recent race, and performance this season.
A third of the way through the Cup season, Toyota has not shown the strength it did last year in winning 19 of 36 points races and the championship.
David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development said this week that the manufacture’s advantage has declined.
“It’s not that we’ve fallen behind as much as they’ve caught up, and there’s no question that that new Chevrolet Camaro and the nose that is on that car has elevated their program,” Wilson said. “The fact that they’re only sitting on two wins right now is shocking to me. I always look at not necessarily the wins, but the potential, what is the true potential of your race cars and that being a function of raw speed. You could argue that we’re punching above our weight right now and they’re not running at their full potential.”
Wilson said even with wins in the last two Cup races, that’s not satisfying because of the performance of the Toyota cars.
“Coming off two wins, I still think we’re on our back foot a little bit,” he said. “In many respects I feel much better about our loss at Atlanta than our win at Martinsville. … The reason I say that is because at Atlanta we had three cars in the top five, we led laps, we had a couple of cars that were good enough to win that race.
“In Martinsville, we embarrassed ourselves. This is one of the most embarrassing races I can remember for the Toyota family. We weren’t ready for the new tire that Goodyear brought to the racetrack. There’s circumstances behind it, but I’m not going to make excuses for it. We weren’t prepared for it.
“Our engine drivability was terrible. On pit lane and restarts. We could have had our worst finish since 2007 had it not been for Martin (Truex Jr.)hanging on long enough to get the car balanced correctly for the tires and putting himself, ultimately, in a position to win the race.
“I was encouraged at what we saw at (last weekend) Homestead. Where we need to be better is our consistency of how we unload from the haulers across the camp. We’ve had too many guys that are just dog crap for the first stage and use that time to try and catch up. That’s unacceptable. We should be better with the tools that we have, with the experience that we have, we should be better.
“There’s definitely room for improvement. Having said all of that, within our camp, within the JGR camp, we’re still positive because we know that our potential is there to lead laps and win races if we execute consistently on pit lane, if we do a better job with our sim, we will be in a position to win more races.”
Toyota is aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing, Leavine Family Family and Gaunt Brothers Racing. The drivers for JGR and Leavine all have scored significantly fewer points in the first stage compared to the second stage, illustrating Wilson’s frustration with how the teams begin the race.
Erik Jones has scored 12.5% of all his stage points in the first stage. Reigning Cup champion Kyle Busch has scored 29.6% of all his stage points in the first stage. Martin Truex Jr. has scored 37.8% of all his stage points in the first stage. Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin has scored 41.6% of all his stage points in the first stage.
To compare, Chase Elliott, who has a series-best 141 stage points this season, has scored 51.8% of all his stage points in the first stage. Joey Logano, who is tied with Truex for second with 127 stage points, has scored 49.6% of all his stage points in the first stage.
Among manufacturers, Fords have won six of the season’s first 12 races and Chevrolet has won twice this season.
Even if Toyota went on to win 12 Cup races this season, based on its current pace, it would be its fewest wins in a season since 2014. Toyota has averaged 15.6 Cup wins a season since 2015.
2. Looking ahead to 2021
With the Next Gen car’s debut pushed back to 2022, the sport will have an additional year with the current rules. That also means an additional year with a similar workforce. With the move to the Next Gen car, teams are expected to reduce their workforce because of limits on the cars.
Now, teams will keep a similar workforce through next year while finding sponsorship at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the economy.
David Wilson, president of the Toyota Racing Development, said next year will be among the key points discussed in a meeting among the manufacturers with NASCAR next week.
“Part of the agenda is going to be looking at ’21 and how do we as an industry help our teams bridge one more year that wasn’t in the plan,” Wilson said. “We already have enough teams in trouble and on the brink. The focus needs to be not selfishly on us as individual (manufacturers) but on the industry as a whole.”
Among the changes is a reduction in the throttle body from 59/64” to57/64” that is expected to reduce horsepower by 35-40. That would put teams around 510-515 horsepower this weekend.
NASCAR also has eliminated the aero ducts to help reduce the likelihood of tandem drafting.
One change not made was to the spoiler. John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of innovation and racing development, explained why such a change wasn’t made.
“Certainly spoiler changes were looked at,” Probst told reporters this week. “… The items that were under consideration were largely centered around slowing (cars) down, which would usually mean a bigger spoiler.
The spoiler that we have on there now is as tall as we can get them without putting significant bending … on the deck lid to the point at which we’d be worried structurally.From that standpoint, getting larger wasn’t really a good option. The more direct knob for us to turn to slow the cars down is directly to the horsepower.”
Another change is the addition of slip tape to the rear bumper. The contact from Ryan Blaney‘s car to the rear of Newman’s car triggered Newman’s crash.
“We’re trying to make the rear bumper of the car being hit like ice, where they slide across, don’t contact and start influencing the car in front laterally, left to right, if you will,” Probst said.
4. COVID-19 protocols
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, was asked this week if the sport has had anyone test positive for the coronavirus and about the status of protocols NASCAR has in place for each race weekend.
“Everything has been going, actually, remarkably smooth, in terms of the protocols that have been set in place,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve certainly had some folks who may have presented some symptoms that we’ve turned away early. That’s up to them to disclose if there were any issues in terms of did someone have COVID or not, but I would say (the protocols have) worked 100% according to plan.
“We’ve not had challenges during an event where anything has come up where we’ve had to react during the hours that the garage was open. It’s been if there were any issues prior to someone entering the facility, which have been very minimal.
“We expect there will be some challenges. We need to continue to do our due diligence. We need to continue to wear our masks. We need to continue to follow the protocols.”
5. Leader of the pack
Team Penske has won seven of the last 11 Cup races at Talladega Superspeedway, a 63.6% winning percentage.
Brad Keselowski has won four times during that stretch. Joey Logano has three wins during that time, and Ryan Blaney won last year’s playoff race.
Nick Ollila has joined Gaunt Brothers Racing as its technical director, the team announced Monday.
Ollila will oversee the engineering department for the Cup Series team that fields Daniel Suarez‘ No. 96 Toyota.
A native of Warren, Michigan, Ollila arrives at Gaunt Brothers Racing after a three-year stint as the technical director for Kelly Racing in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship. His arrival comes ahead of the return of NASCAR racing on May 17 at Darlington Raceway.
“Nick brings considerable insight into what we’re doing with our current inventory of race cars and what we’ll be doing with our NextGen car in 2022,” Marty Gaunt, president and CEO of Gaunt Brothers Racing, said in a press release. “He has deep experience in all forms of motorsports, specifically in embracing technology and managing people. Nick also has a strong rapport with our partner Toyota, as many of the people he worked with when he was at Red Bull are the same people there today. He’ll be able to hit the ground running, which is good, because with two to three races a week, we’re all going to be running.”
This is a return to NASCAR for Ollila, whose career began in 1976 and included a stint as drivetrain specialist at Rod Osterlund Racing in 1980 when Dale Earnhardt won his first championship.
In 1997, he worked with Gaunt at Kranefuss-Haas Racing. Gaunt was the general manager of the Cup Series team and Ollila was its chief engineer. Their paths crossed again 10 years later at Red Bull Racing, where Gaunt was the general manager and Ollila was the chief aerodynamicist.
“Motorsports is my passion, and I’m proud to have turned it into a career,” Ollila said in a press release. “I’ve spent time in a variety of racing series, but NASCAR is the one that intrigues me the most. The level of competition is unmatched, so success is very satisfying. I’ve known and worked with Marty Gaunt and many of the people at Gaunt Brothers Racing for years. They’ve got a great foundation and they’re building for the future, and I’m very happy to be a part of shaping that future.”
This is Gaunt Brothers Racing’s first full-time season in the Cup Series. Suarez is 31st in the point standings through four races. The team failed to make the Daytona 500 but has run in the other three races.
JGR puts three cars in top 10 at Auto Club but work remains
A week after it failed to place a car higher than 15th at Las Vegas, Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota put three cars in the top 10, with Kyle Busch leading the way with a runner-up finish in the Auto Club 400.
But that didn’t keep David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, from noting that race winner Alex Bowman “schooled us.”
KB is right on. Competition have raised their game. Love how our guys drove to the front and fought inside the top-10 most of the day. But the #88 schooled us – kudos to them and #HMS. Setting up to be an exciting season – 3 races in & each OEM with one W. #NASCAR#TeamToyotahttps://t.co/NEWNY0JJi4
Bowman led 110 of 200 laps and won Stage 1 on the way to victory lane.
Meanwhile, Toyota cars led just once for a total of three laps. That was when Martin Truex Jr. – who started at the rear after failing pre-qualifying inspection three times – battled with Bowman in the middle of the final stage.
That’s after Truex led Toyota’s only lap last week at Las Vegas.
His runner-up finish is his first top 10 of the season.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Busch told Fox. “Guys did a great job here though just trying to work on it and trying to make everything we could out of it all day long, all weekend long. Interstate Batteries Camry wasn’t a second-place car, but thankfully we got a good finish out of here and try to get some points. Guys are doing all they can, I know along with everybody at (Toyota Racing Development). I appreciate all the hard work, we just have to get a little bit better. We finished the end of last year so strong, I don’t know what we’re missing here. Obviously, it’s a little bit of something here and maybe a little bit of something in a few different areas, but overall good car today.”
Hamlin was running in fourth on Lap 140 when his No. 11 Toyota brushed the wall exiting Turn 2 and he dropped to seventh.
“We’re still slow,” Hamlin said. “Our cars handled okay. If we don’t have a draft, we’re just run over. It’s tough because I feel like we’re getting beat on throttle time, but we’re also just getting murdered down the straightaways. Just need more horsepower, more downforce and less drag. If we can have all those, we’ll be better.”
Jones’ top 10 is his best finish of the season after he placed 18th at Daytona and 23rd in Vegas.
He called the race “a step in the right direction.”
“I don’t think any of us really had race-winning speed,” Jones said. “I think Kyle (Busch) got some good track position on that restart and was able to maintain. We got shuffled back and kind of had to come back from 15th. I don’t know, I think we’re off. We didn’t have anything for the 88 (Alex Bowman) or anything like that.”
After making his way to the front, Truex’s status as a contender ended with a slow pit stop on Lap 160 when a tire changer’s hand cramped up. He finished 14th.
Meanwhile, the rookie campaign of Leavine Family Racing’s Christopher Bell remains stuck in neutral after three races.
After wrecking out of the Daytona 500 and placing 33rd in Vegas following a crash, Bell was the only driver who failed to finish the race Sunday. His day ended on Lap 80 when he went to the garage after a bolt from another car struck a hole in the oil cooler on his No. 95 Toyota.
No Angela it was not engine failure. Bolt from another car came thru our nose and knocked a hole in the oil cooler. Nothing we could avoid or help . https://t.co/90ir4zH0WE