Daytona Road Course Advance
● Event: O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 (Round 2 of 36)
● Time/Date: 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 21
● Location: Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway
● Layout: 14-turn, 3.61-mile road course
● Laps/Miles: 70 laps/252.7 miles
● Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 16 laps / Stage 2: 18 laps / Final Stage: 36 laps
● TV/Radio: FOX / MRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Notes of Interest
● Toyota takes center stage for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 NASCAR Cup Series race on the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway 14-turn, 3.61-mile road course when Ty Dillon gets behind the wheel of the No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) for his 163rd career Cup Series start. It’s the second event in a row in the No. 96 Toyota for the 28-year-old driver from Lewisville, North Carolina, and also the second race in as many weeks competing on the Daytona road course. Last week, Dillon debuted the all-new 23XI Racing Toyota owned by fellow Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin and former NBA great Michael Jordan in the non-points Busch Clash exhibition on the Daytona road course. In Thursday night’s Duel qualifying races for the Daytona 500, Dillon finished a solid sixth in the No. 96 GBR Toyota but was nipped at the finish line by .04 of a second in his bid to qualify for The Great American Race for the non-chartered team.
● The No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry will be making GBR’s 74th start since joining the Cup Series as a part-time team in 2017. Team owner Marty Gaunt’s almost two-decades-long relationship with Toyota dates back to his ownership of the Toyota-powered Clean Line Racing team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, which became Red Horse Racing, as well as his executive role in the formation of the Red Bull’s nascent Toyota-powered Cup Series team. Gaunt’s Toyota ties strengthened after the 2008 season when he purchased Triad Racing Development, which leased Toyota engines across NASCAR’s Cup, Xfinity and Truck series and continues to be NASCAR’s exclusive distributor of Toyota parts as Triad Racing. Gaunt founded GBR in 2010, with his eponymous team starting out in the Canada-based NASCAR Pinty’s Series and the U.S.-based NASCAR K&N Pro Series. Its first driver, Jason Bowles, scored GBR’s maiden victory in the 2011 Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway in California, with the precursor to that win being the pole position in track-record time at the 2011 Streets of Toronto 100. After seven years competing in NASCAR’s development divisions, Gaunt stepped up to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. His team contested the full Cup Series schedule with Daniel Suárez in 2020, but scaled back its focus in 2021 to the superspeedway and road-course races with an eye toward the introduction of NASCAR’s Next Gen Cup Series car in 2022.
● The Daytona road-course race is the first of a ground-breaking seven NASCAR Cup Series races to be held on road courses in 2021. From 1988 to 2017, there were only two road courses on the schedule – Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. The Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval was added in 2018, giving the series three road-course venues. The initial 2021 schedule doubled that tally, with Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course all being added. And when COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of the series’ stop at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, the Daytona road course was put in its place.
● Sunday’s race marks Dillon’s third career Cup Series start on the Daytona road course. He started 23rd and finished 20th there when the series raced on it for the first time last August, piloting the No. 13 Germain Racing entry. It will also mark his 11th career road-course start in the Cup Series. Dillon’s most impressive road-course outing, even though the final result didn’t reflect it, came in the rain last October on the Charlotte Roval. He climbed in wet conditions from the 17th starting position in his Germain Racing entry to lead the final five laps of the opening stage. He went on to finish 22nd in the race, but the Stage 1 win earned him the spot in last week’s Busch Clash at Daytona.
● Dillon enjoyed modest success on road courses while competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series from 2014 to 2016. In 10 road-course outings, he had an average start of 7.3 and an average finish of 9.8, with top-fives at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington in 2015 (third) and 2016 (fourth), and another top-five at Watkins Glen in 2015 (fifth), all with Richard Childress Racing.
● Sunday’s race marks GBR’s ninth Cup Series road-course outing. Dillon will roll off 38th on a starting grid determined by a weighted formula factoring in current point standings, as well as final result and fastest laps in the previous race. Suárez drove the No. 96 Toyota to a 27th-place finish in last year’s Daytona road-course race. Sunday’s race marks the sixth atop the pitbox for a Cup Series road-course race and second at Daytona for crew chief Dave Winston, a native Floridian who hails from Miami.
Ty Dillon, Driver of the No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing
How have you been preparing for Sunday’s race on the Daytona road course, and do you feel your chance to race in the Busch Clash last week will help?
“My experience in the Busch Clash last week will definitely help this Sunday. Just with preparing for the racetrack and knowing I have been on the track in this package more than some of the other drivers I think will be an advantage, and hopefully we will put it to good use. It’s tough to show up to a track with no practice at all, with a team that you haven’t been on that track with but, thanks to technology and spending time in TRD’s simulator, we will be well-prepared and will give it as good of a shot as if we did have practice. I really enjoy the challenge of road-course racing and I’m glad that I’ll be competing for Gaunt Brothers Racing this weekend. Ever since we announced that I’d be driving for them at Daytona, I’ve been immersed with the team and Toyota. To be able to extend this relationship another week allows us to continue to feed off one another and apply all that we’re learning into on-track performance. I have an opportunity here that I’m super focused on and really pumped for, and hopefully the next steps will be putting some more races together with these guys as they’ve stepped up and given me the first opportunities. I want to go race, I want to win races, and that’s my full focus going forward in hopes of getting back into the Cup Series fulltime and show my full potential.”
Is there any added pressure heading into Sunday’s race with no practice or qualifying?
“No one’s going to put more pressure on me than I already do. That’s why I worked really hard and trained really hard last year and even in the offseason, when most of the offseason I had zero races on the schedule until maybe three weeks ago, when things started coming together. I believe in myself, I’ve worked hard for this opportunity and I’ll know, at the end of the day no matter what the result is, that I’ve prepared as well as I can and had given it my all. That starts to bleed some of the pressure off, so I can just go out and have fun because I did all the preparation, I did everything necessary to be a winning-caliber driver, and now just let the chips fall where they’ll fall and go have some fun.”
How do you keep yourself mentally ready as well as physically?
“Definitely, all the Toyota teams I’m working with this year, they have done so much in providing me with information and things to try to get me on the same page – it’s hard to come out of the gate the first race and have it all perfect, but they’ve given me a lot of information, as well as Toyota. TRD has done an amazing job of helping me prepare. They’re top-notch for a reason and that’s been a really cool experience for me. This offseason taught me a lot. I’ve learned through the hard times, so to speak. If I were to look back at the offseason, day by day we kept grinding away and opportunities came about. If you just take it one day at a time, be present in every moment, that’s my goal.”
The ideal situation, obviously, is driving for one team for the full season and competing for the championship. But do you believe there could be positives in driving in different series and in different racecars in terms of what you can take in and what you can learn?
“I want an opportunity to win races, I want a chance, I believe in myself, and it doesn’t matter how that comes about, even it’s different teams to piece together a 20-race season. I think we get caught up a lot of times about running a full season and that’s the model of NASCAR. But who’s to say running 25 races and winning a bunch of them isn’t a better season than a full season and running 25th just saying you’re in the Cup Series. I want to win races. I race NASCAR, I race cars to win, and that’s the only way you should do it. One of my favorite athletes and drivers of all time is Ayerton Senna and he said the same thing, if you’re not in motorsports to win, then you might as well not do it. I’m thankful to be in that situation again and be older and wiser and stronger and in a better place to hopefully take advantage.”
With all the new venues, with new teams in the series, how excited are you about the health of the sport?
“I absolutely believe there’s a lot of momentum in our sport. Folks like Michael Jordan and Pitbull coming into our sport, that’s massive. We’ve turned eyes, we’ve brought new eyes into our sport. And I think the things we did with social justice, the way we stood behind Bubba Wallace last year, the way that NASCAR took a stance, saying this is who we are now, this is how we want to represent our sport, we’ve take great strides in the right direction. We’ve got a lot of up-and-coming young drivers who are great, we’ve got a lot of veteran drivers. There might be a couple of things that still need to be fixed and they’re on the right path. I think the excitement about the new car, and I think the biggest thing people should be excited about, is hoping this car costs less. I think if this car can cost less for the team and the owners, you’ll see more guys not having to bring $2 or $3 million just to get a chance, no matter if they have four years of experience or not, and be able to get a chance fulltime. I think we’re at the bottom of a U-curve and we’re about to head right back up with our sport. It’s headed in a great direction and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Marty Gaunt, Owner of the No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing
You’re welcoming back your longstanding partner Toyota as the central focus on the racecar this weekend. How would you describe your relationship with Toyota as you navigate the 2021 season with them?
“Toyota has been the constant since Gaunt Brothers Racing began and we are truly honored to continue that partnership this week by carrying Toyota Certified Used Vehicles on our car. We’ve been partners with Toyota for 15-plus years now and they’ve always been in our corner, and we know we can always rely on them. In addition to our working relationship through the years, we’ve got a lot of friends within the walls of Toyota, and with all the goings on this past week in Texas, where they are headquartered, with the cold weather and power outages, we want them to know they’ve been in our thoughts and prayers even more so – not just them but everybody in the state of Texas.”
What are your thoughts as we head back to Daytona to race on the road course this weekend?
“As I said, we are proud to have Toyota Certified Used Vehicles on our car, and we’re looking forward to having Ty back with us this weekend coming off a sixth-place finish in the Duel. As everyone saw, we had a really fast Camry. Everybody did everything right. Our pit stop was spot on, we came out sixth after the pit stop and we were running in the top-five. Ty did an excellent job driving the car, the team did an awesome job preparing the car. Everything was fine until about 5 feet in front of the finish line. We were running fifth, ended up sixth and unfortunately we did not make the Daytona 500. So now we’re looking for redemption this weekend with Ty on the road course. Everybody at GBR really likes Ty and we’re looking for some good things this weekend.”