Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Toyota Plagued by Handling Woes in the Clash

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

The Toyota camp of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing were unable to amount a serious threat to Ford’s restrictor plate dominance in Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway, won by Brad Keselowski.

No Toyota driver finished in the top-five as the new package caused handling issues and risky pass attempts in the draft for much of the afternoon.

Two-time Clash winner Denny Hamlin was the highest finisher in sixth, leading all eight laps for Toyota.

“Our car definitely was a lot better than where we finished. We restarted third on that last restart and I thought eventually guys would start racing, but nobody really did,” Hamlin said. “With us being on the inside line, me and Chase (Elliott) were the guys in the back of the pack so we just could not go anywhere because nobody would race. That part was frustrating, but we got out of here learning a bunch of stuff and we didn’t tear our car up so I’m looking forward to Thursday.”

Kyle Busch was involved in the last lap crash at the backstretch, Kyle Larson tangled into the back of Jimmie Johnson, sending the seven-time champion into the wall.

Busch was in the same line Johnson and Larson were and with little room to avoid the wreck, Busch crashed into Johnson’s right side.

Busch, who was the highest running Toyota before the multi-car accident, limped his mangled car home in seventh.

“The 42 (Kyle Larson) got into the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and messed him up a little on the straightaway there and then it was on after that,” Busch said. “Overall, the beginning part of the race was interesting, guys were moving around and making some moves that felt pretty racey and then the second half of the race it kind of single-filed out. It was more backwards than what we’re accustomed to here and how the race kind of transpired.”

Busch said he would’ve preferred the new package to create more of an ill-handling car where bunching up isn’t an issue when attempting to pass their competitors.

“Certainly I would have liked to see a little more separation in the long run to where guys can kind of slide job each other and move around a little bit and try to pass and have the drivers go after one another, but the cars are just so equal there that you have to drive the heck out of it and there was never enough of a gap that you could slide back up into,” Busch added. “Cars need to handle a little bit worse and get to where guys are having trouble being able to get the speed up. Overall, I feel like we learned a few things there with our car and we’ll go into the 500 with the M&M’s Camry now.”

In his first race as a full-time driver in the No. 20 Circle K Toyota, Erik Jones finished eighth.

Jones said handling was difficult under race conditions and struggled in the draft.

“The new package is a handful. It’s hard to race. It was single-file the whole time and if you try to make something happen, you go to the back,” Jones said. “We went to the back and lost the draft, and that was about the end of it. From here, we have to try to figure out what we have to do for the (Daytona) 500 to stay in contention.”

Defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex, Jr. quietly worked his way towards the front. However, once he was in the battle for the lead, he wasn’t able to maintain track position and lost sight of the leaders.

Truex cross the line in 14th after sliding in the grass to avoid the crash.

“It was up-and-down. It was good at times, we were able to get to the front a few times. I was a good pusher. I could help get guys to the front and make moves to get to second. And every time I would go for the lead, I would end up last,” Truex said. “I gotta figure that out but outside of that, I thought my car was pretty good. I picked the wrong time to go to for the lead and lost the draft a bit, got hung out and then they went single-file for the rest of the way.”

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital MEdia. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. He's also covered Idaho Athletics and high school football as both a writer and videographer. Additionally, he spent 2017 writing several racing columns as an independent journalist. Luis is a fan of Seattle sports, a music critic and a motivator who wants to impact people's lives.