What do Dodge, a manufacturer that left NASCAR after the 2012 season, and Toyota have in common?
They both have just one Cup win at Talladega in the last decade.
Toyota enters today’s playoff race at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on NBC) trying to earn its first win at the superspeedway since 2014. That came courtesy of Denny Hamlin in the spring race at the 2.66-mile track.
It’s most recent Talladega victory prior to that was in 2008 when Joe Gibbs Racing swept that year’s races with Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart.
In the six years between Toyota wins, Brad Keselowski claimed Dodge’s lone Talladega win during its 12-year Cup tenure.
Toyota goes into today’s race with far fewer cars compared to Chevrolet and Ford.
In addition to JGR’s four cars, it will have Christopher Bell in Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 car, Daniel Suarez in Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 car and Timmy Hill in the No. 66 car.
Spearheading Toyota’s seven-car effort against Chevy’s 17 cars and Ford’s 15 cars will be Hamlin, who starts from the pole.
“I think that we obviously know that we can win there, it’s just a lot of it is circumstances,” Hamlin said. “A lot of it is kind of putting yourself in the right place, which you don’t always know what that place will be. It’s historically – the playoff race in Talladega – is pretty wild, because you have probably two-thirds of the field has been eliminated that’s really not racing for much except trying to win and you have some other ones that are going to be fighting tooth and nail for stage points.
“I suspect it will be pretty wild again, but I’m confident that all of our cars are good enough to win every time we go there. It’s just sometimes it is a number game. As Toyota as an organization, we are short on numbers from everyone else. We just kind of count on people getting selfish at the end and use them.”
Despite being 58 points above the cutline, Hamlin is mindful of his situation as he tries to advance to the Round of 8.
“I think with our points position, we need to have a good solid day,” Hamlin said. “We are going to try to lock ourselves in just as soon as possible, so that would be the first stage. If we don’t (think) that is a good option for us once the racing gets going, we will alter that strategy and focus more towards the end of the race. I don’t know how it will play it out. It is kind of a wait and see based on how the pack is reacting.”
Not as secure as Hamlin are his teammates, Busch and Truex.
Truex enters the weekend 15 points above the cutline. Busch, who is winless this season, is the first driver below the cutline. He is nine points behind Alex Bowman.
Busch’s 2008 victory is his lone Talladega triumph in 30 starts.
“I’m just going to do what I’m told to do,” Busch said in a media release. “For us and where we’re at, we don’t have anything to lose. We have to go race. We can’t just sit there and ride and protect a cushion like we have been able to do in the past. We’re going to be on the outside looking in, so we have to go for broke and do all we can do to get those stage wins and points and try to get a race win to automatically punch your ticket to the next round. We have been good at the superspeedway races so far this year, but none of them have turned out to be great finishes.”
Busch also noted the importance of manufacturer car count when it comes to winning at Talladega.
“In the June race there, we had a strong car and ran up front, but just didn’t have enough Toyotas running up front at the end to get any help,” Busch said. “That’s what it comes down to a lot at Talladega, getting the help from your teammates, since it’s hard to do that on your own.”
For Truex’s part, he’s never won a points paying superspeedway race.
“I think you’ve got to approach it like any other race and try to get as many stage points as possible and put yourself in position to be up front all day,” Truex said in a media release. “Talladega is always going to be what it is, and things can and probably will happen regardless of where you’re running in the pack. Everyone knows that going in, so we’ll just have to race hard and make the most of the day.”