A Toyota driver has not reached Victory Lane since Martin Truex Jr.’s Darlington win on May 9. Instead, Hendrick Motorsports has accounted for five straight wins with Kyle Larson taking the past three. The Chevrolet drivers have a clear advantage over the rest of the field, and Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson is not happy about it.
Wilson spoke with Kelly Crandall of Racer Magazine and explained that the Toyota drivers are “clearly in chase mode” after displaying early-season dominance. The team accounted for five wins in the first 12 races, including Christopher Bell’s win at the Daytona Road Course and Kyle Busch‘s victory at Kansas. Truex accounted for three victories while Denny Hamlin built up a seemingly insurmountable points lead with consistent top-five finishes. Now, however, the team is struggling to keep pace with HMS cars.
“Those that know our culture and how we operate, our intensity level is a 10 out of 10,” Wilson told Crandall. “The competition meetings the past couple of weeks have not been fun, and the frustration across the board mounts every week. All you have to do is tune in to that 18 car [Kyle Busch], and he’ll give you a running commentary any given Sunday, and we wouldn’t expect anything less because we expect more of ourselves. We’re pissed off at where we are, and we certainly don’t accept it. It’s not what we accept of ourselves.”
Hamlin’s Lead Shrinks With Each Passing Week
Early in the 2021 season, Hamlin held on to the top spot in the points standings. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry had 379 points after eight races despite failing to win a race. However, Hamlin had seven top-five finishes by mid-April, which helped him maintain a stranglehold on the top spot. Truex was second with 303 points after winning two of the first eight races.
At the time, Larson was below multiple drivers in the standings. He had a win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which contributed to 280 total points. However, he sat behind Team Penske’s Joey Logano (302 points) and just ahead of Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney (272 points). Larson then struggled at Richmond (18th), Talladega (40th), and Kansas (19th) while other drivers found success.
The driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro has since turned a corner and built a reputation as the best wheelman in NASCAR’s top series. He posted three consecutive second-place finishes at Darlington, Dover, and Circuit of the Americas before fully taking control of the Cup Series with three straight wins.
Following his recent run of dominance, Larson (676) is now only 10 points back of Hamlin (686) for the top spot in the standings. He has the most stage wins (12) in the Cup Series and is the only driver with more than 1,000 laps led, reaching 1,426 during the trip to Nashville Superspeedway. Hamlin is second with 756 laps led.
Wilson and the TRD Team Continue to Make Adjustments as the Playoffs Approach
While HMS continues to turn heads with wins and strong performances, the Toyota drivers focus on how they can improve for the late championship run. All four members of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable — Busch, Hamlin, Truex, and Bell — have spots in the playoffs, so they can simply put all of their attention on getting ready to compete and avoid the cutoff line.
“You want to say, ‘Well, what are the Hendrick guys doing?’ And my thought on that is, it doesn’t matter,” Wilson told Crandall. “We can’t affect what they’re doing or not doing. We can only affect what we’re doing and what we have control of, and that’s what we’re focused on. The nature of our partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing is such that when we’re sitting together in competition meetings, it’s not focused on one party or another. We own the engine, that much is clear. That is our responsibility, and one of the first things that we’ve done is raise our hand and say we’re not good enough.”
Wilson acknowledged that while he and the Toyota drivers are unhappy about the current state of the program, he also is looking at the bright side. The TRD president said that he is energized about the process of trying to chase down HMS. His goal is to innovate and find ways to improve the program to the point that Hamlin, Busch, and the other Toyota drivers can contend for wins on a regular basis once again.
The next opportunity to achieve success will be the doubleheader weekend at Pocono Raceway. The Cup Series drivers will compete in the Pocono Organics CBD 325 on Saturday, June 26, at 3 p.m. ET. They will return to the track on Sunday, June 27, for the Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 at 3:30 p.m. ET.
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