Tha Sports Junkies 101

How Toyota Team Orders Might be Helping NASCAR

#20 Toyota and #19 Toyota of Joe Gibbs Racing NASCARMedia.com

NASCAR

In the 2016 Daytona 500, teams and fans of NASCAR saw something new. All 5 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota entries aligned nose-to-tail in positions 1-5 with 5 to go, but nobody was trying to pass. This strategy was not unplanned; it had been discussed weeks prior to the race weekend. If at all possible, those cars were going to work together. Only Denny Hamlin, with less than half a lap to go, pulled out to pass. He ended up winning the race, and a new era of restrictor plate racing was born.

Fans were outraged, competitors were flabbergasted, and NASCAR executives had no answer. For once, dominance could not be quelled by a rule change. This would be up to the teams to figure out, and that’s a good thing. It’s creating something this sport hasn’t seen in over a decade: manufacturer rivalry.

In a sport where the cars are as much the stars as the drivers, the manufacturers have largely taken a backseat in recent years. Toyota’s approach however, is very different. They not only provide wholesale technical and engineering support, but they also have a hand in competition amongst their teams. Their concept is a simple one: A rising tide raises all ships. It’s worked well, and others are taking notice.

2017 – The Drive to Defeat Toyota

Fast forward to 2017 and the other two manufacturers, Ford and Chevrolet, are scrambling to catch up. Chevy has not yet announced one but Ford’s recently revealed driver development program in many ways looks familiar to Toyota’s. A driver owned Camping World Truck Series (AA Ball) team, followed by a Cup (Major League) supported Xfinity Series (AAA ball) effort.

More to the point though, are their on track efforts. The Daytona 500 is a restrictor plate race, where the draft is key. Teammates make for natural drafting partners, and Toyota has used that to gain a significant advantage over their Ford and Chevrolet counterparts. As you might imagine, Ford and Chevy are not very happy about that, and are finally starting to do something about it.

These teams realize that in order to win, they have to be just as organized as Toyota. Their fans know it too. The beauty of that scenario is this: Nothing bonds people more than a common enemy. Fans of a driver for a certain manufacturer are now rooting for that whole group, instead of just one driver. Fans are more connected now to Chevy, Toyota, and Ford than this writer has seen in 14 years. That connection, that passion, shows up on race day, and it generates interest not just in the sport, but in the cars. In a way, it connects the fanbase with the sport in a visceral way. You may not be able to buy Kyle Busch’s #18 Toyota, but you can buy a Toyota Camry that bears a great resemblance to it. That concept is good for everyone involved. A rising tide raises all ships.