Bubba Wallace could join Gaunt Brothers after Suarez departure
In a complex and unexpected move, Bubba Wallace has likely found a new home next season in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Gaunt Brothers Racing has emerged as the front-runner to land Wallace for the 2021 season, Motorsport.com has learned. Wallace, 26, announced last week he would be leaving Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of the year.
Gaunt Brothers is in its first season fielding a fulltime Cup team, currently with driver Daniel Suarez in the No. 96 Toyota. It has received substantial backing from Toyota this year but minimal technical support on the chassis side.
Suarez out of the No. 96
On Tuesday, however, Suarez and Gaunt announced the two sides had agreed to part ways at the conclusion of the 2020 season. Suarez’s future remains unclear but Gaunt Brothers appears set to have an entirely new look in 2021.
Once complete, a reorganization of Gaunt Brothers would include the acquisition of a charter, influx of new investors, new sponsors and expanded manufacturing support from Toyota, according to multiple sources who declined to speak on the record because the deal is not complete.
However, the additional capital investment could put the organization on a level similar to that of the former Furniture Row Racing, sources said.
FRR won the Cup series championship in 2017 with driver Martin Truex Jr., while receiving chassis and engines as part of a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. The team folded after the 2018 season.
Motorsport.com submitted several questions to Gaunt officials covering topics including its interest in adding Wallace as a driver and the addition of new investors to the organization in 2021.
A team spokesperson responded with following, “Gaunt Brothers Racing does not discuss the terms of its agreements, whether it’s in regard to personnel or partners.”
However, in announcing Suarez’s departure on Tuesday, owner Marty Gaunt indicated his organization remained committed to success in the Cup Series.
“We’re laying important groundwork for improved goals next year that, ultimately, sets us up for success with the NextGen car in 2022,” he said in a statement.
“We’re taking a methodical, long-term approach to our future and the next driver of our No. 96 Toyota will be an integral part of that development.”
Expanded Toyota support?
David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said Toyota has the capacity to expand their support in 2021 given the unexpected departure of Leavine Family Racing and would entertain the addition of a new team or teams in 2021 “provided the right circumstances.”
He said the situation would be difficult, however, given the one-year remaining of the Cup car using its current Gen-6 model car before transitioning to the Next Gen car in 2022. Teams were originally scheduled to move to the Next Gen car in 2021 but the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a one-year delay.
“We’ve talked to a number of team owners this summer about opportunities, but we have nothing to talk about or announce right now,” Wilson said.
Sources told Motorsport.com the additional investor support at Gaunt Brothers could include the widely rumored involvement in team ownership by Cup series star Denny Hamlin, another Toyota driver who competes at JGR.
Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and currently enjoying one of the best seasons of his career, said last month he was working on several open-ended projects but had nothing to imminently announce when asked about the possibility of buying into a current Cup team.
“I’m always looking at avenues that would allow me to stay in the sport beyond driving. Certainly, it’s a sport that I believe in,” he said. “Certainly, the financial model hopefully will get better in the next few years for the team owners, regardless if I’m in it or not.”
At the time Hamlin was questioned about a possible ownership role, multiple reports had connected his potential investment to a team that would include Wallace as the driver.
In a video conference with reporters earlier this month, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said it was possible for a current driver of a four-car Cup team to hold ownership in another team, but that NASCAR would have to ensure fair competition. At that time, Phelps said Hamlin had not made an official request to NASCAR for team ownership.
Wallace, the only full-time African-American driver in the Cup Series, has been among the most vocal leading NASCAR’s response to racial injustice protests across the country this summer.
He has recently signed several prominent sponsorship deals including Beats by Dre, Columbia Sportswear, DoorDash and Cash App.
Wallace has had his most competitive season in Cup since his fulltime debut in 2018. He has one top-five and five top-10 finishes and is currently ranked 23rd in the series standings. He also owns six career wins in the NASCAR Truck Series and six in K&N Pro Series East (now ARCA East).
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