CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Daniel Suarez landed a job two weeks before the NASCAR season begins when Gaunt Brothers Racing signed the Mexican driver for the No. 96 Toyota in the Cup Series.
Suarez learned during the final weekend of last season in November that Stewart-Haas Racing was letting him go after one season. Suarez also spent two seasons racing Cup for Joe Gibbs Racing before that team released him.
Suarez won the 2016 Xfinity Series championship driving a Toyota for Gibbs but has consistently been knocked out of rides because his team needs the seat for another driver.
The signing with Gaunt Brothers puts Suarez back with Toyota, which had been heavily involved in developing the 28-year-old native of Monterrey, Mexico, before he spent last season in a Ford for Stewart-Haas.
“It’s great to be back with Toyota and back in the NASCAR Cup Series,” Suarez said. “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.”
Gaunt Brothers Racing, which first entered the Cup Series in 2017, hired Dave Winston from Richard Childress Racing to be Suarez's crew chief. Winston was vehicle performance group engineer at RCR, but has been a crew chief before for Alex Bowman in 2014 and Michael McDowell in 2016.
Gaunt Brothers Racing began in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series in 2010 and the Canada-based NASCAR Pinty’s Series. The team ran 15 Cup races last season — 14 with NBC analyst Parker Kligerman as the driver.
“We’ve been working toward this moment since Gaunt Brothers Racing joined the Cup Series in 2017,” team president Marty Gaunt said. “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's first competition with his new team will be qualifying for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 9. He's eligible for the non-points Busch Clash later that same evening, but the team has opted not to compete in the exhibition race to instead focus attention on their preparation for the marquee season-opening race on Feb. 16.