Toyota’s recent domination no guarantee of Cup playoff success


In this short-attention span world, it’s easy to see Toyota’s dominance the last few weeks and all but concede the Cup championship to Kyle Busch or Watkins Glen winner Martin Truex Jr.

Funny thing, it was only a few months ago when a Toyota car couldn’t win a Cup race.

It’s easy to forget but Chevrolet and Ford combined to win nine of the first 10 races this season. Admittedly, there were a few races Busch lost (Phoenix, Martinsville and Talladega) during that early stretch, but it hasn’t been until lately that Toyotas dominated.

Toyota, led by Truex and Busch, have led 88.2 percent of the 992 laps run in the last five Cup races. Toyota has placed at least three drivers in the top five in four of the last five races. A Toyota driver has won nine of the last 10 stages.

Brad Keselowski, who won two of the first six races this season, lamented Toyota’s rise after last weekend’s Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen won by Busch.

“The Toyotas in all three series just have so much (more) power and aero than everybody else that it’s like two different races,’’ Keselowski said.

So what does it mean for the playoffs?

Expect to see Toyotas advance but that doesn’t mean one will win the championship. Anything can happen in a single race for the title.

Truex, who has collected playoff points like a child hoarding candy, has put himself in good position to advance deep in the postseason. He has 34 playoff points after his victory Sunday. Truex is so far ahead in the points that he likely will finish as the regular season champion and collect the 15 playoff points that go with the honor. That would give him 49 playoff points that will carry through the first three rounds, provided he remains in contention for the title. 

“I feel like with the way we run, coupled with the bonus points, we should essentially be a lock for Homestead,’’ said Truex, who has led three times as many laps as all Chevrolet and Ford drivers have combined in the last five races. “I really feel that way. But at the same time, this is racing, and anything can happen.’’

Or change.

While there weren’t playoff points last year, one can look at the 2016 season and see that even a poor summer stretch doesn’t preclude a driver from winning the crown.

Jimmie Johnson had four finishes of 30th or worse in a nine-race stretch from Daytona to Darlington last year. Yet, he won a race in the second round and another in the third round to advance to the season finale in Miami. He won that race to score his seventh series title.

Could Johnson repeat his run and claim an eighth series title? His finishes have faded in the last six races — he’s placed 25th or worse four times — as they did about this time a year ago. 

Johnson was collected in a crash last month at Kentucky while running eighth. He crashed while racing three-wide for the lead late in the race at Indianapolis.

As he’s always said, the final 10 tracks align well for him.

As for a Ford driver to watch, Kevin Harvick has shown more speed, while Keselowski and Joey Logano have struggled to find it for Team Penske. Logano, who has made it to the championship race twice in the last three years, is in danger of missing the 16-team playoffs after a penalty prevented his Richmond victory from counting toward playoff eligibility.

For as good as the Toyotas have been, Michigan International Speedway, site of this weekend’s Cup race, has not been a good track for the manufacturer lately. In the last three races there, Toyota has had only one car finish in the top five. Denny Hamlin placed fourth in the June race won by Kyle Larson.

With the playoffs still a month away, there’s time for the other teams to catch up to Toyota … or fall further behind.

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Truck results, points following Atlanta race

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Brett Moffitt earned his second career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win when he took the lead on a restart in overtime Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Click here for race results

Daytona winner Johnny Sauter finished third and leads the points heading into next week’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Sauter has a 31-point lead on Matt Crafton. Grant Enfinger is next, 33 points behind Sauter.

Click here for points report

Brett Moffitt takes advantage of Kyle Busch’s woes to win Atlanta Truck race

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Brett Moffitt went from third to first on the restart in overtime and powered his way to his second career Camping World Truck Series win Saturday.

Moffitt’s victory marked the first for Hattori Racing Enterprises, which made its debut in 2013. Noah Gragson placed second and Daytona winner Johnny Sauter was third at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

MORE: Race results, points report

A late caution for an incident involving Josh Reaume and Dalton Sargeant set in stage a series of events that cost Kyle Busch a chance to become the second driver in series history with 50 wins.

Busch led a parade down pit road for fresh tires. Busch’s team planned to take four tires but problems on the right front led to the team telling Busch to pull out of his pit stall after the right front was secured. Only problem was that the lug nuts on the left rear were removed. Busch didn’t get too far beyond pit exit before his left rear tire rolled off. Busch finished 21st.

Stage 1 winner: Noah Gragson

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

How Brett Moffitt won: He restarted third in overtime behind Myatt Snider, who had taken only two tires. Moffitt had four. Snider had no chance. Moffitt got around Snider cleanly and surged to the lead.

Who else had a good day: Daytona winner Johnny Sauter finished third to give him back-to-back top-five finishes to open the season. Sauter has finished no worse than third in each of the last six Truck races, dating back to last year. … Noah Gragson bounced back from a 23rd-place finish at Daytona to place second at Atlanta.

Who had a bad day: Justin Haley had a flat right rear tire nine laps before the end of the first stage. He lost two laps on the green-flag stop. Haley never made it back on the lead lap and finished 22nd. … The audible by Kyle Busch’s team on a slow pit stop before overtime proved disastrous. Busch took off as told after both ride-side tires were changed but the lug nuts on the left rear were removed. The left rear came off shortly after Busch exited pit road.

Notable: Jesse Little finished a career-high eighth. His previous best in 13 previous series starts was ninth.

Quote of the day: “This is unbelievable to be in a race car at this point, let alone in Victory Lane,’’ said winner Brett Moffitt, whose deal with the team came shortly before the season started.

Next: Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Xfinity race results, point standings following Atlanta

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Kevin Harvick won the Rinnai 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway to snap a 22-race winless streak in the Xfinity Series.

Harvick led 141 laps and swept both stages.

He beat Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek and Elliott Sadler.

Click here for race results.

Elliott Sadler leads the points standings after two races. He’s the only driver to start the year with two top-five finishes.

Sadler has a four-point lead over JR Motorsports teammate Tyler Reddick.

Completing the top five are Ryan Reed (-14), Ryan Truex (-21) and Spencer Gallagher (-22).

Click here for the point standings

Kevin Harvick wins Xfinity race at Atlanta Motor Speedway

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Kevin Harvick dominated to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, earning his fifth series win at the track.

Driving the No. 98 Ford for Biagi DenBeste Racing, Harvick led 141 laps and won both stages of the 163-lap race after starting fifth.

Harvick led Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek and Elliott Sadler.

The win is Harvick’s 47th in the Xfinity Series and his 98th overall in NASCAR’s three national series. It snaps a 22-race winless streak for Harvick in the Xfinity Series.

“It’s just been a really good place for me, obviously getting my first Cup win here (in 2001) and being able to run good cars throughout the years,” Harvick told FS1. “The race track has stayed very similar to what’s it been for a number of years. I think if you look at the techniques and things that I do in the car and they give me what I want in the car as far as the field, it applies here.”

Nemechek’s top five comes in his first career Xfinity Series start driving the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Chase Briscoe, also making his first Xfinity start, finished 15th in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 60 Ford.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kevin Harvick won after zooming from 10th to first in a one-lap shootout after pitting for four tires.

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kevin Harvick

MORE: Race results and point standings

WHO HAG A GOOD DAY: Joey Logano earned his third straight runner-up finish at Atlanta in Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford … Elliott Sadler is the only driver to have top-five finishes in the first two races of the year … Ryan Truex (ninth) and Ryan Reed (10th) earned their second straight top-10 finishes to begin the year.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Cole Custer wrecked out on Lap 11 when contact with a swerving John Hunter Nemechek sent his No. 00 Ford into the outside wall before the start-finish line. He finished 39th. … Kaz Grala finished 23rd after he lost power because of a battery problem during the Stage 2 break … Ty Dillon finished 13th, one lap down after receiving a pit penalty for his crew going over the wall too soon with 35 laps to go … Daytona winner Tyler Reddick finished 19th, two laps down after losing his right-rear tire with 25 laps to go.

NOTABLE: Harvick, 42, is the second-oldest driver to win at Atlanta in the Xfinity Series (Harry Gant, 54). … Harvick is the 14th different winner in the last 15 Xfinity races.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Kevin’s just really good at it. Doesn’t matter what car he’s driving or what. He’s really good at Atlanta, and apparently we’re second best to that.”- Joey Logano to FS1 after finishing second.

WHAT’S NEXT: Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 4 p.m. ET on March 3 on FS1.