LOOKING FOR THE BIG ONE: Camry driver Denny Hamlin is coming off a successful 2010 campaign where he finished second in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) point standings. Hamlin won a series and career-best eight races last year, overcoming a torn ACL in his left knee which required early season surgery. The 30-year-old Chesterfield, Va.-native has proven he can win at short tracks and intermediate ovals, and is looking to add the first points-paying superspeedway victory to his resume at Daytona.
BRIAN'S BACK: Red Bull Racing Team driver Brian Vickers returns to the No. 83 Camry at Daytona following a seven-month absence after a medical condition sidelined the 27-year-old racer. Vickers experienced blood clots in his legs, lungs and finger last May. Extensive tests determined he had May-Thurner Syndrome, as well as a hole between the right and left atrium in his heart, which he had surgery to repair last July. The 2009 Chase participant has been given a clean bill of health and is ready to return to the action at Daytona.
QUARTER CENTURY COMPETITOR: Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip is set to compete in his 25th consecutive Daytona 500 this year. Waltrip, piloting the Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) No.15 NAPA Camry with a special paint scheme to honor Dale Earnhardt, won the sports' most prestigious event in 2001 and 2003 -- one of only eight drivers with multiple wins at the `World Center of Racing.' The 47-year-old and his older brother Darrell Waltrip (who won the 1989 race) are also the only brothers to each win the Daytona 500.
SERIES SUCCESS: Toyota clinched its third consecutive Nationwide Series manufacturer's championship last year in its fourth season of series competition. The Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) No.18 Camry also earned the 2010 owner's championship. Kyle Busch has been a big contributor to the manufacturer's success in the series. The 2009 series champion earned 13 race wins, 22 top-fives and 25 top-10s in 29 starts in 2010. The 25-year-old Las Vegas-native has won a total of 32 NNS races since stepping into the No.18 Camry in 2008. Busch has broken numerous NASCAR records over the past three years and is on track to become the all-time wins leader. He has 43 career NNS wins -- five victories shy of tying Mark Martin's record 48 wins.
MANUFACTURER MOMENTUM: After winning five consecutive manufacturer's championships (2006-10) in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS), Toyota returns with a strong driver lineup in 2011 led by Todd Bodine, the defending Truck Series champion. Bodine, who also won the NCWTS championship in 2006, became the first driver to earn multiple NASCAR championships for Toyota. The 46-year-old Chemung, N.Y.-native, who earned four wins last year, is looking for his third victory at Daytona, after visiting victory lane in 2008 and 2009 at the `World Center of Racing.'
NOTES, QUOTES & NUMBERS
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS): Toyota drivers combined for 12 wins, 41 top-five results, 82 top-10 finishes and seven poles during the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) races ... Denny Hamlin (second) and Kyle Busch (eighth) finished in the top- 10 in the final NSCS driver point standings last year ... Kasey Kahne will drive the No.4 Red Bull Camry in 2011... Steve Wallace will make his Sprint Cup Series debut in the Daytona 500 behind the wheel of the Rusty Wallace Racing No.77 Camry ... David Reutimann hails from Zephyrhills, Fla.... Thomasville, N.C., native Brian Vickers is a resident of Palm Beach, Fla.... Camry finished out 2010 as the best-selling car in America for the ninth consecutive year ... Camry, which is built in plants in Kentucky and Indiana, also finished atop the American-Made Index compiled annually by Cars.com and based on the percentage (by cost) of parts made domestically, where the vehicle is assembled and how popular it is with U.S buyers.
DENNY HAMLIN, No.11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What are your expectations this season? "I'm ready to go. I feel as confident as we've ever been. Every year we've steadily made a progression towards the top and obviously had a career year last year. We know we can do it and we can win at all different kinds of race tracks. For me, I think we have everything in place. I'm keeping all of my key personnel from what we had last year. No changes there. Pit crew is the same. The driver will be a little bit better. Everything is in place to hopefully pull out a first championship this year."
Do you feel as much pressure going into this season as you did last year? "I'll be honest with you, I think last year -- going into 2010 -- there were probably more expectations than what there are for me this year. I think everyone is expecting a letdown year and obviously for me I know it's not an option. I'm excited about the challenge. There's fuel there constantly -- whether I would've won the championship or not -- to be on top of the sport. So, for me, I look forward to the challenge -- and it's going to be a challenge."
MICHAEL WALTRIP, No.15 NAPA Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing
What does it mean to race in your 25th Daytona 500 this year? "I feel honored to be racing in my 25th Daytona 500. I wanted a black car that would honor Dale's (Earnhardt) life. NAPA agreed to it, which is special to me because I understand the NAPA blue and yellow is who they are. I asked them to do this and they agreed to do it. That's what the whole two weeks in Daytona will be about for me -- I'll be reflecting back over the past 10 years and more importantly the 10 before that when Dale and I became friends. I think this year's Daytona 500 is going to be the most amazing race we've ever had with the new rules and the new pavement."
KYLE BUSCH, No.18 M&M's Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Are you confident heading into the 2011 season? "I feel pretty good about it. I'm pretty confident with the guys, the team and the cars and everything. Toyota has come a long ways and hopefully we can make up some more ground this year at being able to compete for the championship. With Denny (Hamlin) running the way he did last year was really great for Joe Gibbs Racing, and being able to be in contention until the last race there. Overall, we're all pumped up and ready to go. You sit around all winter long and you think about when the season's going to start and it turns around and it's here already. We're excited about Daytona -- it's going to be fun."
What type of racing do you expect at the Daytona 500? "It's going to be a pretty awesome race. As a driver who has actually been there and tested and has been drafting, I cannot tell you how that race is going to finish. I would like to say that it is going to be a two-car kind of break away, but maybe not. The pack is always going to be on your heels. Even as fast as we were going in groups of two, it seemed like whoever was behind always had an advantage in the draft in your slip stream. It's going to be one of the most exciting races that we've seen there and I say that because there's a dynamic playing out right now with the cars and the way the drivers are drafting with two guys taking off, and then two more guys catching them. Those are the factors that are going to make this a very unique Daytona from what we've seen in the past. It's going to be one of the most exciting Daytona 500s for me from the driver's seat, and I'm sure it's going to be the same for the fans." NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS): Toyota drivers combined for 17 wins, 73 top-five results, 146 top-10 finishes and 18 poles during the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) season ... Kyle Busch finished the season third in the NNS point standings despite only racing in 29 events last year ... Brian Scott will run a full season in the Joe Gibbs Racing No.11 Camry ... Kenny Wallace will pilot the RAB Racing No.09 Camry in 2011.
BRIAN SCOTT, No.11 Shore Lodge Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Can you be a championship contender at Joe Gibbs Racing? "I feel like I'm ready to make a run at it and I think that being with an organization like Joe Gibbs Racing certainly provides me that opportunity. I'm going to continue to learn with every race. I'm going to continue to pick up things and hopefully get better as I get more experience. Hopefully, I'll learn in a way that's not detrimental and learn in a fashion where it's always positive and always moving forward. Learning from top-fives and top-10s and wins and just consistent efforts week in and week out at the race track."
KYLE BUSCH, No.18 Z-Line Designs Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What are your thoughts on only getting to run for one championship? "The one championship deal -- that's no big deal, that's a no brainer. We're all here for one reason and that's Sunday. The guys that are upset or disappointed that they can't run for two championships are not looking at the big prize, which is what we're all here for, which is Sunday. The level of competition is obviously different and the level of capabilities between drivers is a bit different. Still, you're out there racing against the best of the best trying to become a Sprint Cup champion."
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS): Tundra drivers combined for 15 wins, 59 top-five results, 123 top-10 finishes and 10 poles during the 2010 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) season ... Todd Bodinewon the 2010 NCWTS driver's championship with 20 top-10 results in 25 races ... Kyle Busch Motorsports earned the 2010 NCWTS owner's championship in the team's first year competing in the series ... Tundra drivers have earned seven consecutive superspeedway victories, including four straight wins at Daytona International Speedway (2007-2010).
TODD BODINE, No.30 Germain.com Toyota Tundra, Germain Racing What has been the key to your success at superspeedways?
"It's all about positioning and being in the right place at the right time. Obviously, you've got to have a good car or truck to sit in to go fast so that makes a big difference. It's about positioning and I've always been fortunate to have good teachers and understand how it's done. That's a big reason for my success at superspeedways."
What are your thoughts on the new points system for the 2011 season? "It's really going to make a difference with one point now where before it was three points between and then you get to the top and it was five points -- the winner got a lot of extra. That part is definitely going to change things. I do know last year if it was this new points system we would've won both the owner's and driver's titles. It's going to change it, but I don't think it's going to make anybody race differently or anything like that because with one point separation every point makes a difference now, so you really have to make sure you're getting all you can."
-source: toyota motorsports