Toyota executive: Long road to success, first Daytona 500 win ‘humbling’

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David Wilson realized what was possible in the final practice for the Daytona 500.

That’s when five Toyota cars – driven by Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. – drafted together around Daytona International Speedway during the Saturday session.

It wasn’t until the halfway point of Sunday’s race that Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, allowed himself to believe the manufacturer’s plans would pan out.

The plan resulted in four of the five cars leading 156 of 200 laps and Hamlin besting his Joe Gibbs Racing brethren and “adopted teammate” Truex to earn Toyota’s first Daytona 500 win in its 10th try.

“This is very difficult for me to put in words,” said Wilson. “I cannot articulate adequately what this means to Toyota. I’ll start by saying it’s our single biggest race in our company’s history.”

Hamlin edged Truex by .01 seconds for the closest finish in race history. Busch, who gifted the manufacturer its first Sprint Cup title and Brickyard 400 win in 2015, came in third. Edwards, who joined JGR in 2015 and gave Toyota wins in the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500, was fifth.

Kenseth led 40 laps, but finished 14th after nearly wrecking out of Turn 4 on the last lap while trying to ward off Hamlin’s winning charge.

“We realized that our five cars working together could truly do something special on Sunday,” Wilson said. “But think about how many plans you put in place before the race as momentous as this. You can’t control what you can’t control. Most of the time those plans go by the wayside.

“But our teams, our drivers, had the discipline and the trust in each other to execute that plan to a T. To come all the way to the white flag, 1‑2‑3‑4‑5, and then it was a race.”

Toyota’s triumph comes 10 years after it entered the Sprint Cup Series in an attempt to “connect with the American fans.”

It made its first steps with Michael Waltrip Racing, Red Bull Racing and Bill Davis Racing. The 2016 season opens with all three teams no more after MWR closed shop at the end of 2015. Toyota’s latest chapter includes Joe Gibbs Racing, the team that gave the manufacturer its first Cup win 2008, Furniture Row Racing, which joined the manufacturer before this season, and BK Racing.

“It’s heart‑wrenching that none of the freshmen class are still with us,” Wilson said of those teams Toyota debuted with in Cup. “That’s not the end of the story that any of us wanted to see.”

The origins of Toyota’s winning strategy are in the first meeting between Wilson, Joe Gibbs and Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser over dinner.

“I sensed there was a level of trust in each other and a shared value structure that could allow this collaboration to actually succeed,” Wilson said. “On paper it all looked good. But it’s up to the men and women in both of those shops to execute that collaboration.”

That efforts to fulfill those plans couldn’t begin until Nov. 22 last year, the date of the end of the Sprint Cup season. That was the day Busch won the race and clinched the title and Truex finished fourth in the points standings, a career best.

Ninety-two days later, JGR earned its first Daytona 500 victory since 1993 when the team was with Chevrolet. Since, JGR has also competed under the Pontiac banner. Furniture Row entered the fray after a decade with Chevrolet.

“What they were simply able to achieve to get to the Daytona 500 was truly impressive all by itself,” Wilson said. “As far as today goes, let me be candid. There’s going to be a natural level of question amongst the four JGR drivers about this fifth team and driver. It’s not ingrained, it’s not natural for any type of organization to share and to work together in that fashion.”

That fifth driver is Truex, who almost earned his fourth-career Sprint Cup win and Furniture Row Racing’s third.

“Proud of how we worked together with the JGR guys,” Truex said. “That was important for us to kick off the year, try to start to form that relationship, showing those guys they could trust us, that we’re going to be a strong part of their team.”

Trust was something some NASCAR fans were slow to find in Toyota when it first braved the waters of the Sprint Cup Series in 2007 as a manufacturer that Wilson admitted was “not ready” for what awaited it. The executive called the long road to Toyota’s success “humbling.”

“Fans were apprehensive,” Wilson said. “I think it was a polarizing issue, Toyota being here in the sport. I think our struggles, it so much humanized us and showed everybody that we’re going to have to work as hard as anybody. Nothing comes easy.”

Former NASCAR Chairman Brian France defends leadership style in interview

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Former NASCAR Chairman Brian France defended his leadership style when running the stock-car series and said in an interview with Sports Business Journal that he was working on leaving the sport before he was ousted after his DWI arrest in August 2018.

The interview with Sports Business Journal marked France’s first public comments since his arrest.

France became NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in September 2003, assuming the position from his father, Bill France Jr.

Brian France held that position until Aug. 6, 2018, when he took a leave of absence after his arrest for driving while intoxicated in Sag Harbor, New York. He was replaced by Jim France and did not return to NASCAR.

Brian France pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in June 2019. As part of the agreement, he was required to complete 100 hours of community service and undergo alcohol counseling. If he completes those and does not run afoul of the law, his misdemeanor charge will be reduced to a non-criminal infraction in June 2020.

France told Sports Business Journal that he was actively talking to and identifying potential replacements before his arrest but did not go into detail.

France, who oversaw the TV deal with NBC and Fox that goes through 2024 and created what the Chase/playoff format, defended his absence from the track during his reign. France did not attend every race and that became an issue in the garage, raising questions about how involved he was with the sport.

“I understand that kind of criticism, but there is no other sports league that gets any criticism like that,” France told Sports Business Journal of the time he spent at the track. “I’ve always found that a bit interesting that no one else asks another commissioner how many football games or practices he made.”

Jim France is at the track nearly every weekend. Brian France told Sports Business Journal that while his uncle attends more races to match his objective, “(it) didn’t match up with mine, so I had to take the criticism on my way to managing the commercial side.”

France, who endorsed Donald Trump for president at a Feb. 29, 2016 rally at Valdosta State University in Georgia, accompanied President Trump on Air Force One to Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, according to the pool media report.

Monday’s Daytona 500: Restart time, weather and more

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Let’s try this again.

After rain postponed Sunday’s race, Cup drivers will get back on track Monday at Daytona International Speedway to complete the Daytona 500. And the forecast looks very good for Monday’s race.

The race was halted after 20 of 180 laps with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. leading.

Here are today’s details:

(All times are Eastern)

RESTART: Command to fire engines at 4:05 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:12 p.m. 

DISTANCE: 180 of the scheduled 200 laps remain to be run on the 2.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 65. Stage 2 ends on Lap 130.

TV/RADIO: Fox’s broadcast begins at 4 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s broadcast begins at 4 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 73 degrees and a 3% chance of rain when the race resumes.

RUNNING ORDER:

  1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  2. Joey Logano
  3. Aric Almirola
  4. Ryan Newman
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. William Byron
  8. Jimmie Johnson
  9. Ty Dillon
  10. Timmy Hill
  11. David Ragan
  12. Chris Buescher
  13. Matt DiBenedetto
  14. Chase Elliott
  15. Ross Chastain
  16. Alex Bowman
  17. Kyle Larson
  18. Kurt Busch
  19. Austin Dillon
  20. Cole Custer
  21. Michael McDowell
  22. Tyler Reddick
  23. Ryan Blaney
  24. Bubba Wallace
  25. Reed Sorenson
  26. BJ McLeod
  27. Corey LaJoie
  28. Brendan Gaughan
  29. Ryan Preece
  30. Justin Haley
  31. Martin Truex Jr.
  32. Kyle Busch
  33. Erik Jones
  34. Christopher Bell
  35. Denny Hamlin
  36. Clint Bowyer
  37. John Hunter Nemechek
  38. Quin Houff
  39. Joey Gase
  40. Brennan Poole

Daytona 500 postponed to Monday

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The Daytona 500 has been postponed until Monday, NASCAR announced Sunday evening.

The race is scheduled to take the green flag at 4:05 p.m. ET Monday. The garage will open at 1:30 p.m. The race will air on Fox.

The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 72 degrees and an 11% chance of rain when the race is scheduled to resume.

The race was scheduled to take the green flag Sunday at 3:18 p.m. ET but that was pushed back because of President Donald Trump’s participation in ceremonies before the race. He gave the command to start engines and his motorcade led the field on a pace lap. An extra pace lap was done to honor Jimmie Johnson, who is making his final Daytona 500 start.

As the field was set to take the green flag at 3:29 p.m. ET, rain in Turns 1 and 2 prevented the start. Rain fell throughout the track and led to a 51-minute delay.

When the race resumed, the field completed 20 laps before rain led to a caution at 4:36 p.m. ET. The field again was brought to pit road and the race was stopped. NASCAR told teams they could uncover cars on pit road at 6:18 p.m. ET but almost immediately there were reports of rain drops around the track. Drivers were called to their cars but never got in them. It began to pour around 6:44 p.m. ET. The race was called at 6:50 p.m. ET

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led the opening 20 laps. He is followed by Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick.

Sixth through 10th is Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Ty Dillon and Timmy Hill.

This is the second time the Daytona 500 has been postponed by rain. It happened in 2012.

Daytona 500 once again under rain delay

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Rain has once again put a damper on the 62nd Daytona 500.

The race got through the first 20 laps of the scheduled 200-lap event before the yellow flag came out, sending cars back to the pits.

Pole Sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and his Chevrolet has led all laps since the green flag fell. Fords make up the next five spots (Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski), while the highest Toyota’s driver — Martin Truex Jr. — is back in 31st place.

It was the second time rain has impacted the event. After seven pace laps, the start of the race was delayed for 51 minutes due to rain. Engines were re-fired at 4:14 p.m. ET

The race is airing on Fox.

We will keep you updated on the status of the race and when it resumes.