Who’s Hot, Who’s Not heading into NASCAR Cup championship race (video)

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This is it, the championship-deciding finale of the 2017 NASCAR Cup season: Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

After the third and final elimination race this past Sunday at Phoenix, four drivers remain to battle it out for the championship: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski.

Here’s how those four drivers shape up against other drivers and who’s hot or not heading into Sunday’s race:

WHO’S HOT:

 No. 78 Martin Truex Jr.

  • Second Championship 4 appearance
  • Finished second at Martinsville and Texas, third at Phoenix
  • Finished top five in eight of the nine playoff races this season
  • Seven wins in 2017, the most by a driver since Matt Kenseth had seven in 2013
  • Finished in the top five 18 times and the top 10 25 times this season, both are the series-best
  • Led a series high 2,175 laps in 2017, led the most laps in nine races
  • Best Miami finish is second in 2006
  • Best Miami finish in the last three races is 12th, worst in the prior eight races there was 11th
  • Won six of the 10 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season
  • Top-10 finishes in all 10 1.5-mile races this season
  • Finished top two in the last five 1.5-mile races

No. 4 Kevin Harvick

  • Third Championship 4 appearance
  • Fifth at Martinsville, won at Texas, fifth at Phoenix
  • Will compete for the Championship at Miami for the third time in the last four years
  • Six top-10 finishes in the playoffs and three finishes of 17th or worse
  • One Miami win, 2014 to win the championship
  • Finished top 10 in the last nine Miami races including top three in the last three
  • Top-10 finishes in the last eight 1.5-mile races including winning the last one at Texas
  • 11 career 1.5-mile wins

No. 18 Kyle Busch

  • Third Championship 4 appearance
  • Won at Martinsville on last-lap pass, his third win of the playoffs, 19th at Texas, seventh at Phoenix
  • Five wins this season, all in the last 15 races
  • Failed to lead at Phoenix, snapping a 17-race streak of leading at least one lap
  • One Miami win, 2015 to win the Championship
  • Finished top 10 in four of the last five races at Miami
  • Only one top-10 finish in the last four 1.5-mile races, 10th at Kansas

No. 2 Brad Keselowski

  • First Championship 4 appearance (won 2012 championship under old format)
  • Finished fourth at Martinsville, fifth at Texas and 16th at Phoenix
  • Got some help and luck at Phoenix to make the Championship 4 at Miami for the first time
  • Advanced to the Round of 8 with his win at Talladega
  • Winless at Miami in nine starts, best finish of third, twice
  • Only three top-10 finishes at Miami, all came in the last four races
  • Only two top-10 finishes in the last six 1.5-mile races

No. 11 Denny Hamlin

  • Finished seventh at Martinsville, third at Texas, 35th at Phoenix after an accident after finishing second and first in the first two stages
  • Finished top 10 in nine of the last 12 races
  • Finished Round of Eight fifth in points, -19 to the cutline
  • Two Miami wins, 2009 and 2013
  • Finished top 10 in the last four races at Miami
  • Finished top five in the last six 1.5-mile races

No. 21 Ryan Blaney

  • Finished eighth at Martinsville, sixth at Texas and 17th at Phoenix
  • Finished top 10 in three of the last four races
  • Finished sixth in points in the Round of 8, -23 to the cutline
  • Two series starts at Miami, finished 17th and 26th
  • Worst finish on a 1.5-mile track in the last five races is 11th at Chicago

No. 24 Chase Elliott

  • Finished 27th at Martinsville after late-race wreck with Denny Hamlin while leading. Finished eighth at Texas, second at Phoenix
  • Now has seven career runner-up finishes without a win, tied for the most all-time
  • Five top-five finishes in the playoffs is tied for second to Martin Truex Jr. (eight)
  • Finished seventh in points in the Round of 8, -25 to the cutline
  • One series start at Homestead, started fifth, finished 11th last year
  • Top-10 finishes in the last five 1.5-mile races; best finish of second, twice

No. 20 Matt Kenseth

  • Won at Phoenix, the 39th victory of his career
  • Won at least one race 14 different seasons
  • Left the Round of 12 10th, -30
  • One Miami win, 2007
  • Top-10 finishes in six of the last seven Miami races including the last four
  • 12 career 1.5-mile wins, second most among active drivers

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

  • On best streak of season
  • Finished 10th at Phoenix, finished top 12 in six of the last seven races this season
  • Best Miami finish is third in 2013, his only top five at Miami and one of only two top-10 finishes
  • Miami will be the 631st and last start of his Cup career; he has won 26 times

 WHO’S NOT:

No. 42 Kyle Larson

  • Finished 39th at Kansas (engine), 37th at Martinsville and Texas (accidents), 40th at Phoenix (engine), his worst four consecutive races in his career
  • Left the Round of 12 ninth in the standings, -9
  • Eight runner-up finishes this season
  • Four wins in 2017, had one entering this season
  • To- five finishes in the last two races at Miami including runner up last year
  • Finished runner-up four times on 1.5-mile tracks this season

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

  • Finished eighth at Phoenix, best finish since his Daytona win in July
  • Left the Round of 12 in 11th, -46
  • Best Miami finish is 22nd, three times
  • Only two career 1.5 mile top-10 finishes in 57 starts (three percent)

No. 3 Austin Dillon

  • Finished 14th at Phoenix, fourth straight top-15 finish
  • Finished 14th in the first round, -4
  • Only four top-10 finishes this season, had 13 at this point last year
  • Won on fuel mileage at Charlotte earlier this year
  • Best Miami finish is 12th, last year
  • Only one top-10 finish in the last 12 1.5-mile races, his win at Charlotte in May

No. 1 Jamie McMurray

  • Finished sixth at Phoenix, ended four straight finishes of 18th or worse
  • Left the Round of 12 in 12th, -48
  • Seventeen top-10 finishes this season, six more than this point last year
  • Seventeen top-10 finishes is his second most in a single season (23 in 2004)
  • Five DNF for accidents in 2017
  • Best Miami finish is third in 2008
  • Finished top five in two of the last three races at Miami
  • Top-10 finishes in eight of the last 11 1.5 mile races

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson

  • Finished 12th at Martinsville after starting at the rear, 27th at Texas after a loose loose wheel, 39th at Phoenix for a wreck
  • Only one top-five finish in the last 22 races
  • Finished outside the top 10 in the last five races
  • Four top-five finishes this season, three were wins
  • Finished the Round of 8 eighth in points, -70 to the cutline
  • One Miami win, 2016 to win the Championship, led only three laps
  • Finished top 10 in the last four races at Miami
  • Twenty-eight career 1.5-mile wins, most all-time
  • Only three top-10 finishes in 10 starts on 1.5-mile tracks this season

No. 5 Kasey Kahne

  • Finished 19th at Phoenix, his worst finish in the last seven races
  • Only three top 10 finishes in the last 25 races
  • Finished 15th in the first round, -23 to the cut line
  • Six DNFs accident this season
  • Won at Indianapolis ending a 102 race winless streak, took a super lucky timed caution and turned it into a win.
  • Best Miami finish is 4th in 2006
  • Finished 12th or worse in the last five Miami races

No. 31 Ryan Newman

  • Finished 20th at Phoenix, only one top-10 finish during the playoffs
  • Finished Round of 16 13th in the standings, -2 to the cut line
  • Best Miami finish is second in 2014
  • Two top-three finishes in the last five Miami races but finished 16th or worse in the other three

No. 41 Kurt Busch

  • Finished 21st at Phoenix, six finishes of 20th or worse in the last eight races
  • Only two top-10 finishes in the playoffs
  • Finished 16th in the first round, 25 points below the cut line
  • One Miami win, 2002
  • Last top-five finish at Miami was 2009

No. 14 Clint Bowyer

  • Finished 13th at Phoenix, only three top-10 finishes in the last 13 races
  • Was 88 points out of a playoff spot
  • Finished runner-up three times in 2017
  • Thirteen top-10 finishes in 2017, had three in all of 2016
  • Best Miami finish is second in 2012
  • Finished top 12 in eight of his 12 Miami starts

No. 22 Joey Logano

  • Finished 12th at Phoenix
  • Thirteen finishes outside the top 20 in the last 26 races
  • Won at Richmond after starting in the rear due to a transmission change, but win was ruled 
encumbered due to illegal suspension
  • First time he missed the playoffs with Team Penske
  • Best Miami finish of fourth, twice
  • Finished top 10 in three of the last four Miami starts

 

 

Robert Yates left us with a beautiful gift: his NASCAR Hall of Fame acceptance speech

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Dale Jarrett cried beforehand while preparing. Edsel Ford II cried during, as did countless attendees at Friday night’s annual NASCAR Hall of Fame induction.

They cried not just about the induction of legendary team owner and engine building genius Robert Yates, but also the touching and profound words Yates left as his legacy.

Knowing that his long battle with cancer could potentially take him from us before the induction – which it ultimately did on October 2, more than three months ago – Robert Yates left the NASCAR world with an emotional gift: some of his final words.

Before he passed away at the age of 74, Yates hand-picked fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett to read those words, a task that was both a great honor but also very emotional for Jarrett, who won a NASCAR Cup championship and Daytona 500 while driving for Yates.

“It was an honor for the Yates family to ask me to do that and to be a part,” said Jarrett, now a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports. “It was a very difficult thing to do. (It took) a number of reads before I could get through it, as you could imagine.

“This was someone that we could have spent the entire two hours talking about how special of a man and hard worker Robert Yates was. He’s exactly what this Hall of Fame is about, that type of person that started at the bottom, worked his way to the top, and there’s nobody that’s been as good as him ever in this business.”

Jarrett said he wished it would have been Yates who was inducted into the Hall in 2014 so he could enjoy the moment, rather than Jarrett.

“Speaking strictly from a personal standpoint, I look at this, that I wish he could have been the one going in in 2014. It would have only been fitting that he was in here in the Hall of Fame before I was, and we could have heard that speech from his mouth and in his words.

“But I was honored to do that, and when I look at it and think about it, a lot of us drivers were fortunate to drive for Robert and Doug Yates and the Yates family and what they’ve meant to me. But in my case, he took an average driver that had a huge heart and a huge desire to win and made me think that I could do extraordinary things.

“I’m appreciative of that and the opportunity that he gave me to win races and a championship, and a special night for the Yates family.”

Here’s Robert Yates’ full, touching induction acceptance speech, in his own words, that were read Friday by Dale Jarrett:

When I started in racing, this was not the goal. All I wanted to do throughout my career was win races.

“I would always say, I don’t race for the money, I race to win. For me, that’s what it’s always been about, but to be part of this year’s induction class is a true honor.

‘There are a lot of other people I want to thank because this isn’t really about me; it’s about those who gave me the opportunity to do something I love.

“I want to thank Bill France Jr. He loaded me up with wisdom through the years, and while some of our conversations were tough, he taught me things about this sport that were invaluable.

“And Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company. When you get to know people like Edsel, you realize that you’re always part of the Ford family, and that means a lot.

“Working in the Holman Moody engine shop turned out to be the best education I could ever ask for. We worked day and night, but if it wasn’t for people like Jack Sullivan, John Holman and Ralph Moody, I wouldn’t have developed the skills I needed.

“Junior Johnson is a man of few words, but I’ll never forget, we were at Charlotte Motor Speedway one day, and he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Robert, I’ve got to have you.’ We worked out a deal where he basically allowed me to run my own shop, and nobody appreciated what I did during that time more than him. So, Junior, thank you.

“I learned what it was like to run a race team in 1976, when I took over as general manager for DiGard Racing. I worked with Hall of Famers like Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison and had 10 great years there.

“The Allisons have been a big part of my life. I won a championship with Bobby in 1983 at DiGard, and then got to work with Davey, who was always so positive.

“When I bought Harry Ranier Racing, I knew other people wanted to hire him, so we talked about it, and he said to me, ‘Robert, I’ll always work for you.  You don’t ever have to worry about me.’

“Losing Davey was painful. We shed a lot of tears and didn’t know how we would move on, but we did. As NASCAR started to move to more multi-car teams, Ford approached me about running the Quality Care car in 1995.

“I never liked the idea of two cars. Dale Earnhardt Sr. and I always talked about how, until they made two places for cars in Victory Lane, you only need one. So I wasn’t fond of running a second team, but it worked out well.

“We hired Dale Jarrett on a handshake deal done at the Raceway Grill in Darlington. We didn’t sign a contract until several months later.

“Todd Parrott came on as crew chief, and everything just clicked. We won the Daytona 500 in 1996 in our first race together, and then won the championship in 1999. It was a special time in my life with a special group of people.

“So to you, Dale, Todd, and everyone who worked at Robert Yates Racing or in our engine shop, you have my deepest appreciation.

“I’m also extremely blessed to have my assistant Kristi Jones. She’s meant so much to me and our family.

“To this point, I’ve talked about some of the people who have made a difference in my career, but none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for the people who made a difference in my life: my family.

“My brothers and sisters were all good students, but I didn’t care about going to school. I was the only kid in my family that didn’t make straight A’s. That’s when my sister, Martha Brady, stepped in. I moved from Charlotte to Wake Forest and lived with her. She told me what classes I was going to take, and that was the first time I studied and made straight A’s.

“My sister, Doris Roberts, talked to me about going to Wilson Tech, and that was the best two years of school I ever had. I loved physics and geometry. So if it wasn’t for my two sisters, I don’t know where I’d be today.

“Another person I want to thank is my twin brother, Richard Yates.  He’s been a big part of my life, and I love him dearly.

“When I was working for Junior Johnson, I would take Doug to the shop. He was still in diapers, but the floor was clean, so I would put him down there, and he would sort out nuts and bolts.  He could sort them out and put them all in the right bin.

“I knew he was destined for a career in racing. Little did I know that would include working side-by-side with him for 20 years. Doug, I couldn’t be prouder of the man you are today. I love you.

“I used to give Amy rides on my dirt bike when she was only two years old. She would sit in front of me and laugh and hold the handlebars and say, “Faster, Dad, faster.” She’s a great mom to her four kids and the sweetest daughter a dad could ever ask for. Amy, you’re my baby doll, and I love you.

“Doug and Amy have given Carolyn and I eight wonderful grandkids.  Your futures are bright, and I love each of you dearly.

“It’s been 51 years since I took a four-day leave from the Army and made the best decision of my life: I married Carolyn. She’s been by my side ever since and has supported me every step of the way. I worked all hours of the day and night, but she never called to say, get home. She let me work.

“Carolyn, I don’t know where the time has gone, but it seems like yesterday we were in a one-bedroom apartment trying to make ends meet. You’re the light of my life. You’ve always been there for me, particularly this past year. Your devotion reminded me of our vows: In sickness and in health. And I love you.

“I never prayed to win a race. I just prayed for the wisdom to help me make good decisions. My creator didn’t always give me what I asked for, but he gave me more than I deserved.

“I thank you for this great honor.  Good night, and God bless.”

Ray Evernham on NASCAR Hall of Fame induction: ‘This is forever’

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Ray Evernham has been successful in virtually everything he’s done in his life.

That includes an amateur boxer, race car driver, 3-time NASCAR Cup championship crew chief, Cup team owner, TV and radio personality, racetrack owner, businessman and so much more.

But nothing will ever personify and speak to Evernham’s career success like Friday night’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

It’s without question the pinnacle of his career, celebrating a man who has done so much in the sport – as well as for the sport.

“You dream about it and you work hard to get there, and the whole time you’re doing it you never really think that you could ever make a mark in a sport that would get you at this level,” Evernham told reporters after his induction.

“I can tell you it still really blows me away. To stand up on top of that stage there and look at the banner and look at the people sitting there in front of me and when I turned around people were on their feet and clapping, it was like very surreal.

“It was just like being in a movie. I thought, ‘Man, oh wow, now I know how Rocky felt.’ But I can tell you it’s the greatest moment of my career.”

Man, oh wow, now I know how Rocky felt.’ … It’s the greatest moment of my career.” — Ray Evernham

Evernham was presented for induction into the Hall by Jeff Gordon. When asked how much of a role he played in Evernham’s career, Gordon was gracious in his reply.

I think (Evernham) played a larger role in my career,” Gordon said. “I’m so thankful to be a part of this.

“What he’s meant to me with my driving career and as a friend because of all we’ve gone through – I mean, we’ve seen one another go through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, on the track or off the track.

“And when you go through that and you have the kind of relationship that we had, the business relationship that then turned into the friendship, when you see somebody honored like Ray was tonight, which is so deserving – this guy sacrificed – I think that’s why I love seeing people.

“Listen, don’t get me wrong; I love seeing the drivers. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, all of them deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. But to me, the drivers already get a lot of rewards or accolades or written up, but guys like Ray, even though he got his fair share, but it was never enough for the effort, the sacrifices and the things that he did to make that car, the team and me really shine the way that it did.”

While Gordon and Evernham teamed together for the first time in Gordon’s NASCAR Cup debut, the final race of the 1992 season at Atlanta, something magical happened when they first got together two years earlier in a 1990 test.

“I knew it immediately, we just clicked,” Evernham said of Gordon. “I liked him a lot and he liked me. We spoke the same language. He was a kid, might have been 19.

“I had seen the best drivers in the world. I knew talent. What I saw him do that day at Charlotte with the car that we had that wasn’t that special, I believe it was a Buck Baker school car we went and tested with, and he was quick, I think second quick overall that day to Davey Allison.

“He did some pretty amazing things, and the way that he spoke to me and the way that he described what the car was doing and what he needed in the car, I thought to myself, this guy is way too young. That’s not experience; that’s pure talent and that’s ability.”

Gordon concurred.

“It was the same for me,” Gordon said. “It clicked right away. … I came home from that test, and I just said, ‘You’re not going to believe this guy.’ He had a clipboard. He’s writing down every word that I say, and he’s like, ‘Ok, we’re going to do this, we’re going to put this spring in.’

“I was like, ‘What’s that going to do?’ I didn’t know anything about springs or shocks. I was racing dirt sprint cars and midgets. He said, ‘Well, it should do this,’ and I’d go in the corner, and it did it. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this guy is a genius.’ So we clicked immediately.”

Evernham, now 60, admits that his induction had him choked up.

“It’s been emotional to me,” he said. “I mean, certainly you look at this as a cap-off on your career, and you look back, as I said – I meant it when I said I’ve seen some of the toughest, most articulate guys we know stand on that stage and be emotional.

“Tonight it’s very special to me because Ray J (Evernam’s son) was up there, Jeff was up there and Ben Kennedy, again, because his dad Bruce and I were close, to have all three of them up on the stage. When I walked up there, I said, I hope I can get through it without crying, but that’s normally Jeff’s deal. But I get it.

“It’s a tremendous, tremendous honor, and when you start to … when you realize that it really is all about the people and the relationships that you’ve made, because without those people and without the relationships, the rest of the stuff is just trophies, man.

“When you win at the Cup level, you get to enjoy it for four days, and then there’s 39 more guys trying to knock you off that pedestal. They’re not going to let you have fun. Friday morning, it’s back to square one.

“The memories are going to be of the things that we did with the people. … That’s what’s really special about the Hall of Fame, because this is forever.”

Ron Hornaday Jr. kept up a cold tradition with Hall of Fame induction

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – The call came “out of the blue” in November.

The name “Horny” flashed on Wayne Auton’s phone.

The nickname belonged to Ron Hornaday Jr., four-time Camping World Truck Series champion and one of Auton’s closet friends.

Earlier in the year, the former Truck Series director and current manager of the Xfinity Series had been the one to call Hornaday and let Hornaday know he was one of the nominees for the 2018 class in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“Hey, buddy, I need you to do something for me,” Hornaday said. “I want you to induct me into the Hall of Fame.”

Auton needed a moment.

“Ron, did you just say what I thought you said?” He eventually responded.

“Yeah.”

“Damn man, you need to let somebody in your family do that.”

“No, you are my family.”

Auton began crying.

For two days Hornaday couldn’t sleep.

The 59-year-old native of Palmdale, California, fretted over the speech he’d give Friday night at the Charlotte Convention Center as the first Truck Series champion to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“This is really the crown jewel of everything he’s done,” Hornaday’s wife, Lindy Hornaday told NBC Sports. “He was scared he was going to forget somebody and I said, ‘Everybody knows you and they know that you’re thankful to everybody. So don’t thank anybody specifically. Just thank them all.'”

Friday morning, Hornaday woke up without a speech set in stone.

“I got up at 9 o’clock this morning and it was like *makes gagging noises*,” Hornaday said. “I walked away, took a deep breath, come back and I couldn’t do it again. And I said to hell with it. When I started seeing my friends and family, something will come to me instead of trying to read this speech off that prompter. I got back to the room and I’ve never had an anger deal, I don’t know what it’s called in your stomach, but my stomach was turning over so bad. I was regurgitating air for about four hours. I finally fell asleep for a little while. My wife wanted to go to lunch. I sent her with all the family to lunch. I finally thought about thinking about what this really means and still didn’t know what it meant until I started seeing friends, family, peers, the Hall of Famers. They really just got me into a different mood. I did that one sober. Usually I get a couple of beers in me before I speak.

“Everybody’s telling me, ‘be yourself, take your time.’ How can you do that? It’s the freakin’ Hall of Fame!”

Those are the same words Hornaday bellowed at the beginning of his unscripted speech, with both arms raised high.

“That was the best part about the whole thing,” Hornaday said. “Had to break the ice, just to get somebody to giggle. And I knew I could get on a roll.”

Hornaday said he only forgot to mention Chevrolet, the manufacturer he earned all 55 of his NASCAR wins with.

Wayne Auton, left, poses with Lindy Hornaday and Ron Hornaday Jr. (Photo: Daniel McFadin)

During the two days Hornaday fretted over his speech, Auton was with him.

The two first encountered each other in 1995, the inaugural season of the Truck Series.

“He was there at every one of my wins,” Hornaday told NBC Sports. “He’s the one that gave me the words of wisdom, he’s the one that pulled me down and closed doors and told me what I had done wrong on the race track. He’s the one that chewed my butt out, he’s the one that when he got all done and said I’d chew his butt out. We got all done and said and we’d get a beer together.”

For 18 years, the two were “friends, enemies and warriors,” said Auton.

“Whether he won, whether he lost … when we were inside the gate we had a job to do,” Auton said. “When we walked outside the gate we were very good friends. We had to have a beer together. Cold beverage. We knew each other’s family like they were our own.”

Leading up to the ceremony, the two pestered each other about what the other would say when the time came.

“I said, ‘Ron, I just hope I don’t pee in my pants,'” Auton said.

“When he was up there speaking, I seen him shaking pretty good,” Hornaday said. “I’m glad I got back to him and made him as nervous as I was.”

Standing on the auditorium floor afterward, Auton described the moment as “the biggest honor” he could ask for.

“I’ll never top that.”

When they left the stage, it took them awhile to get back to their seats.

Auton said they stopped to have a cold Coors Light.

Toyota executive calls Truck Series ‘critical step’ in developing drivers

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A Toyota Racing Development executive says that the manufacturer would accept a spec engine in the Camping World Truck Series, noting how valuable that series is for the development of drivers.

David Wilson, president of TRD, made the comments Friday on “Tradin’ Paint” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

NASCAR tested a spec engine for the Truck series multiple times last year and it is expected to be optional this season.

Wilson admits the spec engine idea has raised concerns among manufacturers.

“It is a little bit of a sensitive issue with all the manufactures,’’ Wilson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Arguably the biggest single piece of (intellectual property) in any car or truck is the engine, so certainly that’s important to us.

“By the same token we understand the bigger picture. We have been working with NASCAR, all the (manufacturers) have been working with NASCAR to make sure that we keep this series going because here’s the bottom line — while our motivation to run in Trucks has changed over the years, it remains an absolute critical step in how we as an industry develop drivers.

“The leap from ARCA or K&N or Super Late Models straight to Xfinity, that’s too big of a leap. You need a step and that Truck Series is a very important step. You look the drivers that have come through just in our camp — Erik Jones, Christopher Bell, Daniel Suarez — that experience in the Truck garage has been absolutely critical in preparing them to be successful in Xfinity and ultimately in Cup. We’re going to continue to take a big picture approach with the Truck Series and work with our friends at NASCAR. If there are some spec engines that have to be under a Tundra hood, so be it, we’ll be OK.’’

Last year’s Xfinity champion and rookie of the year, William Byron, ran a full season in Trucks in 2016. Erik Jones, the 2016 Xfinity rookie of the year, ran 17 Truck races before his Xfinity debut. Daniel Suarez, the 2017 Xfinity rookie of the year, had run only one Truck race before his Xfinity rookie season but he also ran 13 Truck races while competing in Xfinity that first year.

Those young drivers also illustrate Toyota’s emphasis on new talent. But with only five seats — four with Joe Gibbs Racing and one with Furniture Row Racing —  with Cup teams partnered with TRD, Toyota is having a hard time finding spots for all its drivers.

Wilson said the manufacturer remains committed to developing drivers.

“It’s a commitment that Toyota has made to NASCAR and to motorsports,’’ he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We enjoy a tremendous amount of value. NASCAR is simply a phenomenal place for us to race. This is part of our payback.

“We feel like we have the social responsibility to give back to the series. We know we’ll lose as many of these young guys and gals as we’ll be able to keep because we simply won’t have enough seats for them. That’s just simple math. It’s already been proven out by William Byron (who raced for Kyle Busch Motorsports in Trucks before moving to Chevrolet in Xfinity and now Cup). We’ll be racing against William, who used to be in a Toyota.

“Bottom line this sport still benefits. As I’ve said before, getting to know these young kids and getting to know their parents at a young age and as they’re coming up in the sport, I believe that will pay dividends. These kids can have a career that spans decades. Who’s to say that we won’t cross paths again? By us building that relationship early on, showing them who we are … the responsibly we have to their well-being, I think it’s a sound investment.’’

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