DAYTONA Beach, Fla. – The Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing Toyota drivers have developed a clear drafting strategy in the DAYTONA 500 over the last two years.
Last February, the five Toyota cars drafted together at the front of the field and led 156 of the 200 laps. Denny Hamlin then battled Martin Truex Jr. side-by-side in the closest finish in “Great American Race” history as the No. 11 edged out the No. 78 at the line.
Now with a sixth Toyota Camry in the field with Furniture Row Racing’s newly formed No. 77 5-Hour Energy team for Erik Jones, the two organizations attempted a similar drafting strategy throughout Speedweeks and in Sunday’s DAYTONA 500.
During the first stage on Sunday, all six Toyota cars pitted early in an attempt to sync up their pit cycle. However, this game plan didn’t turn out as planned as Jones, Daniel Suarez, and Matt Kenseth all ran into trouble on pit road.
Suarez received a speeding penalty entering pit road, Kenseth returned to pit road a second time after flat spotting his tires upon his first entry, and Jones missed his pit stall.
The six teams planned to draft together following the pit stops, but only three teams successfully executed the plan.
By the second stage, Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Jones, and Kenseth found each other and were able to draft together. However, the strategy again backfired when Busch blew a tire while entering Turn 3.
Truex Jr. led the Toyotas which allowed him to escape the ensuing carnage once Busch’s tire blew unexpectedly and Jones and Kenseth were collected.
“If I would’ve (had an indication the tire was going to blow), I would’ve tried to wave off as many guys behind me as I could, but it happened just as soon as we started picking up load into turn three,” Busch said.
However, having no indication not only cost the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion his day, but took out half of JGR and FRR’s six-car fleet and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“I don’t know if it was a left rear that went down or the right that went down but man, tore up three JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars in one hit and also Jr. (Dale Earnhardt Jr.),” Busch continued
At the time of the crash, the Toyotas had just positioned themselves in an ideal drafting situation and planned to move to the front throughout the final stage of the race.
“We spent most of the day kind of working our way up through and biding our time and we were finally in the position we wanted to be there to be cycled out with some JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) teammates and our Furniture Row teammate,” Jones said. “Nothing we could do.”
Unlike a year ago, Toyota won’t leave Daytona with the trophy. Michael Waltrip ended up being the highest finishing Toyota during his 30th and final DAYTONA 500 as he finished eighth.
Truex Jr. was the highest finisher among the six JGR affiliated Camry’s as he finished 13th. Hamlin came home 17th, Suarez 29th, Busch 38th, Jones 39th, and Kenseth 40th.
Now the Toyota’s will head to Atlanta and look for redemption after a challenging start to the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
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