Gaunt Brothers Racing driver Daniel Suárez was made available to media at Daytona 500 Media Day.
DANIEL SUÁREZ, No.96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Toyota Camry, Gaunt Brothers Racing
Thoughts about having to race your way in.
“I have flashbacks actually from 2016 when I had to go and race for the championship in Homestead. I feel like it’s kind of similar, right? You have to beat three guys. Similar mindset that you have to have. You have to go out there and execute, no mistakes, control what you can control.”
What is the balance between being aggressive and going after something, not putting yourself in a spot where you get knocked out?
“That’s a good question. Honestly, I don’t know. I will have to figure that out as I’m in the racetrack, obviously. The first half of the race, just be aggressive, not too crazy. After the pit stop it’s go time.”
Have you had conversations with your team on how you’re going to approach it?
“Yeah, we have a plan. We kind of know what we’re going to do, how we’re going to expect this. We have to execute. That’s the key.”
You knew you were going to have to race your way into the Daytona 500. Do you feel there would be this kind of pressure?
“I feel a little pressure, but not that much. I have to control what I can control and do my job. It’s very unfortunate the charter situation. That’s the way it works. But we’ve been in the market a couple months to buy one.”
They’re not cheap.
“No, not just that. There is no one for sale that I know. We went to Wal‑Mart seven times and didn’t find anything (laughter). No, there is nothing for sale. We actually tried, but there is nothing for sale. That’s a situation, you know. That’s how it works. Eventually hopefully we can find the right one.”
Any idea of guys you might work with in your Duel?
“Well, I hope with the other Toyota guys. Three Toyotas in there, so hopefully we can work with them and move to the front.”
Is there an effort among them to help you out since they’re in a good spot getting in the race?
“No, everyone is going to look out for their own. If the opportunity presents, I’m sure they’ll be glad to push a Toyota than a Chevy.”
Is it nerve‑wracking in your position? Anything can happen. If things go well, you should be able to make it.
“I think if we execute, if we don’t make mistakes, we should be fine. We just have to be calm, be patient. I have to do my thing. I feel like actually my car was pretty sporty in the draft. We have an engine that is as good as any other Toyota out there. The problem is that we don’t have the car, the body, and the chassis, not the newest and greatest car that he we can lower the car that much. When we’re in the draft, we’re as good as anyone. We need engine for the draft, we need the car for raw speed. Unfortunately we don’t have the car, but we have the engine. Feel good about it. We just have to execute, good pit stop, control what I can control.”
If this would have been last year or a previous year, you probably would have said the same thing: you have to control what you can control. Is it that different? How different is it going into the Duels this year compared to last year?
“Yeah, I think that now really there is a bigger stake in there. We have to be more calculated more with my moves, be aggressive at the end of the race if I have to. I don’t feel like anyone is going to be crazy aggressive out there because everyone wants to keep the primary. I have to use that to my advantage.”
Do you expect help from your Toyota teams?
“If the opportunity presents, yes. But they won’t slow down and look for me to push. Nobody would do that. I wouldn’t do that. If they can push me or push a Toyota, they’re going to push me, than another manufacturer. I feel like we just have to do our thing. There is pressure, yes. Obviously there is pressure. It’s not a big deal. I think we are in an okay position. We just have to be smart, execute, have fun.”
The lack of speed when you unloaded and qualified, does that concern you?
“We knew. We knew it was going to be tough. That’s the reason why we didn’t build a Clash car. We knew it was going to be difficult to just put the best and greatest ever. We did the best we could with the time that we had. I mean, we’re in the point where we’re still looking for engineers, we’re still looking for one mechanic. We’re still looking to build a team. We are going to eventually build it. We have what it takes to do it. It’s just not easy to find the people around the corner. We are looking for the right people. My goal is to take this team, it was a team that nobody knew, it was a part‑time team, to a winning team in the future. That’s my goal. Really I’m going to work very hard to build it the right way.”
You’re still looking? You don’t have those people?
“Yeah, today we don’t have an engineer. My crew chief is an engineer, like he’s wearing different hats right now. We’ll still looking for one of the mechanics. There is a few key people that we don’t have yet. We have a good pit crew, a very good crew chief. The general manager of the team, he’s an engineer, so he’s playing a few hats at this point. But we’re in the point where we’re still looking for some people, still building the team. We don’t have simulation yet. We’re still working on the simulation program. I mean, when we arrive here, we didn’t have SMT. There’s a lot of still things we’re still building the team.”
Does that concern you, that you weren’t able to find those people?
“I mean, you know, really the best people, they are working somewhere. That’s why they are the best. But I feel like we have a great manufacturer behind us in Toyota. They’re helping hard to try to find the right people. I’m sure hopefully soon we can find the right people and keep building this team as we go.”
Speaking of Toyota, you’ve at least got hopefully a couple of stablemates in your Duel. Have you talked about being able to work together in hopes of getting you in the 500? Is that a discussion you had yet?
“No, not really. I’m sure if the opportunity presents, they will help out a little bit.”
What is your mindset going into tomorrow night?
“My mindset is go out there, execute, no mistakes, and be aggressive when I have to be aggressive, be smart. I feel like if I can do my job, I don’t have to kill myself to make it happen. I feel like I just have to do not beat myself up. If I can do that, we should be fine.”
What has this whole experience been like for you?
“Yeah, it’s different for sure. The last couple years has been difficult in many different situations. I’m excited for this new project, this new challenge. I feel that we have a lot of good things coming for the future.”
Is it important to keep that positive mindset?
“Yeah, really. If I go down as a driver, the whole team goes down with me. If I keep them up, if I’m able to keep everyone up, we are able to get the right people, build the right direction, we’re going to have something pretty special.”
You’ve never had to race your way in before. Providing all the pieces come together, will that potentially make this Daytona 500 start mean more than any of the others?
“Probably a little bit. Probably a little bit. Daytona 500 is going to mean a lot if I can actually win it. Hopefully we can have a shot.”
With the way things ended in the 2018 season, is it awkward at all to be back with Toyota?
“No, no, no. Actually Toyota wanted me to stay. Toyota did everything in their power for me to stay. Toyota has been one of the best sponsors, supporters that I ever had. Some of you guys don’t know, but Toyota and I, we go way back since before I moved to the U.S. I was supported by Toyota Mexico. Then I came here to the diversity program supported by Toyota. The national series by Toyota, I mean, we have made history together. To be very honest with you, last year I missed Toyota the most. Toyota is a great manufacturer. They pay a lot of attention to detail. There’s a lot of great people, a lot of great people in this organization. Just very proud to be back with this group of people.”
You say you missed Toyota the most.
“It’s not that I missed them. There were a lot of things, a lot of good people, a lot of friends, a lot of people that it just doesn’t feel awkward at all to be back with them. It’s one of those situations that it’s kind of like when you’re in a relationship with someone for that long, you feel awkward being out of that circle, then you come back, you don’t feel awkward coming back, right? That’s how it feels. I’ve been with Toyota for more than 10 years. Every year I’ve been with Toyota in NASCAR but last year. It doesn’t feel awkward at all to be back with them.”
More of a happy homecoming?
“Yeah, I feel happy. I feel like if I’m smart, we’re able to build this team, we’re going to have a bright future ahead.”
Is that a talk you’ve had with the team, this is what I want for you, to make you into a winning team?
“Yeah, yeah. That’s why they brought me over.”
Without having some of the mechanics, the engineers that you need, are you nervous at all going into a Daytona 500 without that?
“I mean, it’s a process, you know. We have to build something. I mean, five weeks ago we didn’t have anything. Four weeks ago we didn’t have a crew chief, the most important in the group. It’s a building process. We have to build this. That’s why it’s difficult right now. But it’s going to get easier as we go.”
How much do you get to help pick those people who make up the team?
“A lot. I like to be involved with all those calls and decisions because ultimately it’s important for me to have a good chemistry and to know who I’m going to be working with.”
Is that new more so this season or did you have that say last year, too?
“I have had that in the past, too. Unfortunately in the past, they have moved people left and right, forward, back. It hasn’t been good. I feel like that’s one of the disadvantages of being with a big team, that sometimes they take people away.”
Being the only representative from Mexico, how is qualifying at the Daytona 500? How does it feel to represent your entire nation as a whole? How much more force does the heritage give you coming into this moment?
“Yeah, in my career I have gone through a lot of difficult times, a lot of good times also. That have made me the person I am today. I feel like I’m a tough person. We have to keep working hard trying to, like I said many times, control what I can control, go out there and fight hard.”
Are there any mentors from Mexico or Latin American mentors at the moment that kind of talk to you or help you out past couple months?
“Yeah, I have a lot of people helping me out, different friends, family, some other drivers. Just trying to go through this situation, it’s way easier that way. I know a lot of people with more experience than me. It’s just good to have support from my country. That’s for sure.”
In joining Gaunt Brothers, it’s a much smaller team than the teams you’ve become accustomed to, how are you wrapping your head around dealing with smaller expectations? How do you set your goals knowing you’re probably limited on what your talent can actually do?
“Yeah, I feel like it’s a process. I feel like it’s a process that we have to be smart in the way that we race. We have to be building this team. We’re in the point where we’re still working to try to get some people, some engineers and stuff like that. It’s going to be a process. But the goal is to be a winning team, it’s to build this into a winning team. If you think about it, there is not one single Toyota team that is bad. The goal is not to start the first one, it’s to make this another competitive team. It’s going to take time, a lot of work. We believe that we have what it takes.”
In terms of your own personal development, where did you feel you had a weakness? How did you address it? How do you feel about it now?
“I feel like one of my biggest weaknesses is just managing the people. I have a lot of people moving around. That hasn’t been good for my career.”
The Mexican national team is playing in Charlotte on Thursday, March 26. You’re not on the track in Texas till late. Do you plan on attending?
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