After a strong showing at Charlotte, has Toyota turned things around?

Toyota had its best showing of the season in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.

After a strong showing at Charlotte, has Toyota turned things around?
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Kyle Busch, who won the All-Star race and Stage 1 in the 600, led the contingent with a second-place finish. Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five.

While this is the first time the Joe Gibbs Racing veterans have all finished in the top-five, I’m not convinced the Camry Camp has returned to its former stature — yet. 

After Truex picked up his second win of the season at Kansas — and with his record at Charlotte Motor Speedway — the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team should be a favorite at the track. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s led the most laps in the last three May races — 756 of a possible 1,200 circuits to be exact, including 233 laps on Sunday.

Truex took over the points lead after problems plagued Kyle Larson throughout the weekend at Charlotte. His 33rd-place finish, the No. 42 team’s only DNF of the season, came after Larson had scored one win, four second-place finishes, and 10 top-15 results. Truex, the only Camry to win in 2017, also tops the tour in driver points, stage wins (6), playoff points (16) and laps led (769).

While Truex has been consistent all season, that hasn’t been the case for the other Toyotas. With the field thinned by the absence of Brad Keselowski, who wrecked 19 laps into the race along with Chase Elliott followed by mechanical issues for Ryan Blaney and then Larson’s wreck, the door was opened for other drivers to capitalize including the Toyotas. 

Busch’s second-place result, tying his best run of the year at Martinsville, lifted him from seventh to fifth in the standings for the first time this season. He earned a race-high 61 points for his efforts. Busch’s three stage wins ties him for second in the category along with Kevin Harvick and Blaney. 

For just the second time this season, the three Joe Gibbs Racing veterans all finished in the top 10 during a stage. On Sunday, it happened twice — in the second two segments. Hamlin scored his second top-five and picked up his second stage win. Kenseth’s third top-five finish elevated him into 15th in the standings — his best seating since Las Vegas following three DNFs earlier this year. 

Rookie Daniel Suarez, who finished 11th at Charlotte, has yet to finish in the top 10 during a stage but came close to scoring his fourth top-10 finish. 

Although I lost the bet on rookie Erik Jones becoming the next first-time winner, Austin Dillon earned that honor with his Coca-Cola 600 victory, he posted a career-high finish of seventh. For the first time since expanding to a two-car team, Furniture Row drivers both finished in the top 10. Jones was as high as 12th in the standings this year before wrecks at Richmond and Talladega. He led two laps at Kansas and has 12 top 10 finishes in the stages. Crew chief Chris Gayle will continue to impress on his rookie the racing cliche, “To finish first, first you have to finish.” The good news is no one has to teach Jones speed. 

Along with Truex, the FRR teammates will only get better and continue to bolster the Toyota program. But if Toyota expects to cycle back to the top, Joe Gibbs Racing will have to rediscover the consistency it’s lacked up until now. On Sunday, Toyotas swept stage wins for the first time since Truex pulled off the feat at Las Vegas.

Sure, Busch can continue to lead the charge at JGR but one driver can’t carry an organization. And until Gibbs wins again, it will be premature to declare the company is back to its old form.

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