By admin | October 4, 2008
By Richard Allen
When Toyota entered the Sprint Cup Series in 2007 many who opposed their entry feared the worst. It was thought that the Japanese auto giant would come into NASCAR’s top division and spend their competitors into oblivion and thus take over the sport.
To the contrary, Toyota’s first season in the Sprint Cup division was a disaster. In 2007, the newcomer experienced embarrassing rule infractions in their very first race and perhaps even more embarrassing results as the season wore on.
However, 2008 brought new hope as the manufacturer signed one of NASCAR’s top teams, Joe Gibbs Racing, to be its standard bearer. With JGR’s powerful team and driver lineup, Toyota was almost certainly assured of more success in their second season than they had in their first.
And throughout much of 2008 that was certainly the case. Kyle Busch put the foreign car maker in victory lane of a Sprint Cup race for the first time in March at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Busch has since gone on to add seven more wins up to this point.
All in all, Toyota has won nine races. Eight of those wins were achieved by Busch and one by fellow JGR driver Denny Hamlin.
So, why write this article with seven races still to be run? How can it be determined whether Toyota has had a successful season if the season has not fully played out?
The reason for this article at this time is that the three Toyota teams to have qualified for the Chase for the Championship are now all but eliminated from contention. Of the twelve drivers to make the ten race playoff, the Toyota campaigners occupy the 10th, 11th and 12th positions in the standings. The best Toyota driver is Hamlin who is 1oth, 243 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
With that being said, we can now consider whether this season has been a success or failure for Toyota since it is all but a certainty they will not win a driver’s championship.
One thing to have occurred this season is the newest manufacturer has proven it can run up front and win races. However, it has to be considered that their wins came predominately from just one driver. Granted, there have been races in which Hamlin or Tony Stewart appeared to have victory in hand until circumstances decided otherwise. The reality is that Kyle Busch, not Toyota, may have been as much responsible for their success.
On another note, Toyota may yet have one championship trophy to cling to at the end of this season. For the first time in five years there is a chance that an auto maker other than Chevrolet will win the manufacturer’s championship. Toyota currently leads those standings but the recent hot streak by Ford has allowed that company to close dramatically in recent weeks.
While Toyota’s 2008 season has been a marked improvement over its 2007 venture there can be an argument made that the season has at least in part been a failure. Despite their number of wins, one driver has accounted for the vast majority of their success. Despite the fact that Toyota dominance was once a hot topic during other points of the season, there will not be a driver’s championship.
However, a manufacturer’s title could yet allow the auto giant to label this year a success, albeit a somewhat muted success considering the look of things just three short weeks ago.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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