By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Two-thirds of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is in the books, and for the most part Toyota has had a stranglehold on the rest of the field. But over the last couple of weeks, it appears that perhaps Toyota drivers won’t simply run uncontested into Homestead.
Kevin Harvick, who hadn’t won a race since the middle of March, finally reached victory lane again last weekend in his No. 4 Chevrolet at Bristol Motor Speedway. After the race at Bristol was over with, there was a test session at Chicagoland Speedway, which may very well be known eventually as the turning point of the 2016 season.
Harvick paced the test session, and Jimmie Johnson revealed that the Chevrolet teams in attendance found some speed on their competition.
“We’re definitely building confidence as today has progressed. We felt like the Chicago test session a couple of days ago went well for us and we were able to improve the car over the course of the test session and consistently put up decent and respectable lap times,” Johnson said earlier in the week.
This week, Ford driver Joey Logano won the pole for the Pure Michigan 400, but Chevrolet drivers Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman all recorded top-10 starting spots, and it just felt like the playing field had been evened out.
At the end of 400 miles of racing Sunday, Kyle Larson secured himself a spot in the Chase when he crossed the start finish line after a duel with Chase Elliott for his first career win. Larson and Elliott, like Harvick who won last week, drive Chevrolets.
While Larson and Elliott were battling for the lead, some of Toyota’s lead drivers Kyle Busch (finished 19th) and Martin Truex Jr. (finished 20th) struggled. The highest finishing Toyota in Sunday’s race was Carl Edwards who came home seventh.
Overall, Chevrolet drivers led a grand total of 145 (72.5-percent) of the 200 laps in Sunday’s race. To put this in perspective, Chevrolet drivers led just 64 laps (out of a possible 699) in the four races before Bristol last weekend.
Overall, Chevrolet has had 10 cars in the top-10 of the finishing order of the last two races, while Toyota has had just four cars finish inside the top-10 in the same two-race span.
With two races remaining until the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, it really looks like the pendulum is starting to swing. Toyota still has the edge for now, but the manufacturer can’t rest on its laurels as the competition, and Chevrolet in particular have been closing the gap tremendously the past couple of weeks.