● Ty Dillon, the 28-year-old from Lewisville, North Carolina, will make his 163rd career NASCAR Cup Series startupon qualifying for The Great American Race. He’ll drive the No. 96 Bass Pro Shops/Black Rifle Coffee Company Toyota Camry, marking his first points-paying start behind the wheel of a Toyota. Dillon is the 2011 ARCA Menards Series champion and has 10 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Daytona with three top-10 finishes, including a fourth-place drive in the 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400.
● Dillon will first take to the track behind the wheel of the No. 96 Bass Pro Shops/Black Rifle Coffee Company Toyota Camry at 12:05 p.m. ET Wednesday during the first practice session of 2021. Following that 50-minute practice will be single-lap qualifying for the Daytona 500, where the two fastest cars will be locked into the 40-car field.
● Qualifying sets the field for the Duel – twin 150-mile qualifying races that determine the starting grid for the 63rd Daytona 500. Odd-numbered qualifiers are in the first Duel and even-numbered qualifiers are in the second Duel. Collectively, 44 drivers will vie for just 40 spots.
● For drivers like Dillon, earning a spot in the Daytona 500 will come one of two ways – be one of the two fastest independent teams in single-lap qualifying, or race your way into the Daytona 500 by way of the Duel. There are only four open spots in the Daytona 500 for independent teams, and there are eight drivers going for those four spots. Chartered NASCAR teams hold the other 36 positions, giving them a guaranteed starting spot for the Daytona 500 and every race on the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
● In addition to his 10 career Cup Series starts on the Daytona oval, Dillon has nine starts there in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with a pole position in the 2016 season openerand a best finish of third in the 2015 season opener. He also earned the Daytona pole in the 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season opener and scored a best finish of third in that series’ season opener the previous year.
● Among active Cup Series drivers with more than four career starts at Daytona and its sister Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Dillon has the third-best average finishing position– 16.8 in his 18 career outings. He sits behind only Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s 16.4 average finish in 32 career Daytona and Talladega starts, and Denny Hamlin’s 16.5 average finish in 60 career starts.
● Dillon will be performing triple duty during this year’s Speedweek. He’ll begin the week by driving the No. 23 Cup Series Toyota for the new 23XI Racing team co-owned by Hamlin and former NBA great Michael Jordan during Tuesday night’s Busch Clash. Dillon qualified for a spot in the non-points event by virtue of his stage win on the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval last fall. He’ll also compete in Saturday’s Xfinity Series racebehind the wheel of the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
● The No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Toyota has made six starts at Daytona since joining the Cup Series ranks as a part-time team in 2017. D.J. Kennington drove it to a best finish of 13th in the July 2018 race, and Parker Kligerman drove it to 15th in the 2019 Daytona 500. In the team’s last Daytona outing, Daniel Suárez drove the No. 96 GBR Toyota to the lead midway through the August 2020 race and led 19 laps before an accident three laps short of the finish ended his bid.
● Bass Pro Shops is a longtime supporter of Dillon. North America’s premier outdoor and conservation company was with Dillon for his first career Xfinity Series win in July 2014 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and his three Truck Series victories – August 2012 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, June 2013 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, and November 2013 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
● Black Rifle Coffee Company is a premium, roast-to-order, veteran-owned coffee company that gives back to veterans in every cup. Founded by Evan Hafer, a Green Beret who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Black Rifle Coffee Company has quickly established itself as a strong brand with a growing community of loyal fans thanks to its delicious coffee and commitment to supporting veterans, law enforcement and first responders. The 2021 season marks its second year as a sponsor in NASCAR.
What does the opportunity to join GBR for this year’s Daytona 500 mean to you?
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity to race for Gaunt Brothers and for Bass Pro Shops and for Black Rifle Coffee, and really thankful for the opportunity that Toyota is giving me to be able to run their cars. It hasn’t been the easiest offseason – trying to figure things out has not been easy – but I appreciate the little crack in the door for an opportunity to be able to kick the door down with full potential of doing really well. This is an opportunity of a lifetime for me to get into equipment that has been at the top of the sport for so long, and has won three out of the last five Daytona 500s. I’m pumped to get to Daytona.”
How did this opportunity come about for you?
“As things were progressing and teams were looking for drivers to race at Daytona, and I was looking for an opportunity, things started kind of lining up and I got in contact with Marty. There was an opportunity there and, knowing their relationship with Toyota, knowing that it was going to be a great car, which is something I was looking for, it was a pretty easy decision to try and connect the dots and try to make something happen here. What a great manufacturer to be able to race for. I’m really thankful for this opportunity and hopefully we can continue to grow something, and I’d love to continue down the path of running more races with them. I’m very thankful that we did and hopefully we’ll go out and put on a great show.”
You and the team will have to qualify into the Daytona 500 on speed on Wednesday night, or race your way in during the Duel on Thursday night. What is your confidence level in getting the job done?
“I feel very confident in my ability with a little bit of practice just to be able to get in the car and be able to run a qualifying lap. I’ve had a lot of experience – this will be my seventh attempt at the Daytona 500 – so I feel confident about being able to hit my marks with the qualifying lap and just see what the Bass Pro Shops/Black Rifle Coffee Toyota can run for speed. We have a really strong effort going out there and I’m looking forward to putting it in on speed on qualifying night. But if it comes down to having to get in via the Duel, I feel very confident. Superspeedways have been a strength of mine over the years as far as being able to put myself in position to have a shot at winning those races. I’ll just use the same method and approach that I’ve always used at the superspeedways to hopefully get us a good finish and get us advanced into the race. I feel confident about our ability to get in and we’ll see how it goes.”
Talk about what it means to have the support of Bass Pro Shops and Black Rifle Coffee in helping make this opportunity possible.
“Johnny Morris (Bass Pro Shops founder) – he’s been quite the catalyst in my career, and this became an opportunity when Marty (Gaunt, team president) and I first spoke, I know how much Johnny and Bass Pro love the Daytona 500. Johnny has been so important to my career, I wanted to give him an opportunity to support our team and give us an opportunity to get out there, and I’m so thankful. Johnny is among the smartest and most generous people I’ve ever met, and I’ll be forever thankful to him and his family for helping us out with this opportunity. Along with Black Rifle – they have such an amazing company, a veteran-run company that not only has great coffee but great standards and morals – to be aligned with two companies like that for the Daytona 500, I feel pretty good about putting on a great show for those guys, along with Toyota.”
How would you describe your evolution as a driver in the Cup Series the past four years and your vision for the future?
“I’ve always excelled at the superspeedways, done really well, always been there at the end of the races. I’ve done really well at the places where we’re going to a new racetrack, whether it’s the Roval or somewhere like that, or there’s some new element to it where I feel like I’m a quick adapter in any new situation and I can get there quicker than most. You get to the Charlotte rain race, I had one rain race in my career before that, but I was able to drive from 30th into the top-five and win a stage after that. I’m quick to adapt and I think I’m a very natural-feel-talent of a driver. I think where I can continue to grow is my study for the sport and communication. In the last four years, I went from a rookie level to a more veteran level by being able to communicate with my crew chief, not expecting every single relationship to be handled the same way as I always did in my career, but really starting to work person-to-person with my relationships and what it takes to grow those relationships over time. When you get to the top level, it’s no longer just talent. The mental and emotional parts have to be right there with you, and that’s where I’ve grown massively over the past four years. And for me, too, I want to get the best opportunities in the best equipment possible, and this is a wonderful start with Toyota.”