If Drake was to ever become a bandwagon fan in NASCAR, he’d be taking warm-up laps in a Camry. What a time to be alive for Toyota racing.
2016 was a groundbreaking year for Toyota in many respects. They hope to take that momentum and carry it into 2017. In a sport where Ford and Chevrolet has dominated the scene for more than 30 years, Toyota secured its first-ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) manufacturer’s championship in their 10th year of Cup competition. Camry drivers won 44% of all races to bring home the NSCS manufacturer’s championship and Toyota now reigns supreme in owning the manufacturer’s title in all three NASCAR national touring series.
It was a total team effort for Toyota as five different drivers collected 16 wins over 36 races during the year. Joe Gibbs Racing led the way with 12 wins, while the upstart team Furniture Row Racing chipped in with four more wins. Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. led the squad with four wins each, while Carl Edwards (three), Denny Hamlin (two), and Matt Kenseth (two) also found their way to victory circle in 2016.
What’s even better for Toyota? The future might be just as bright with the new rookies joining the camp.
Daniel Suarez, the first Mexican-born driver in NASCAR, won the driver’s championship in the NXS and will join Joe Gibbs Racing, and Erik Jones finished 4th in the Xfinity Series and will saddle up with Furniture Row. The combo of Suarez and Jones gives Toyota two vibrant and talented rookie racers, but they’ll have to get over the rookie wall that faces all young drivers. Just ask Chase Elliott, Chris Buescher or Ryan Blaney about their lack of successes in 2016.
However, just like how college football’s best programs don’t rebuild, they reload, Toyota’s pipeline should continue to bear fruit with more young talent down the line. Christopher Bell (22), Matt Tifft (20), Cameron Hayley (20), and Ben Rhodes are all poised to make it up to the big leagues in the next couple of years, as all four will look to rack up plenty of wins in the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series in 2017.
Who deserves the credit for developing all this talent? The team’s best driver, Busch.
“He still races in Late Models and all that kind of stuff. I talk to him a lot and say, ‘Hey, who do you see?’ Or ask him an opinion. I’ve asked him for his opinion on Daniel, on Erik. And he’s normally pretty much spot-on. He’s really good, I think, at evaluating drivers.” — Joe Gibbs, via Kenny Bruce of NASCAR.com
Busch’s investment in the young drivers, along with taking heat for driving in the lower-level circuits, means scrutiny from some peers but fleshing out the real from the fake in the talent and the resources surrounding them.
Who knows if Toyota will repeat their monumental feat in 2017, but if they do, it’ll be because of their investment into the future and their hands-on approach. Now someone tell Gibbs to cue up Big Rings.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”