Five races into the season, Toyota remains the only manufacturer without a victory but in Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the OEM had several drivers in the mix for the win at the end of the race.
Both Denny Hamlin (14 laps) and Christopher Bell (six laps) were among the 13 different leaders in the race and both drivers plus Tyler Reddick found themselves in contention for the win in the final laps.
In the end, Bell ended up giving Joey Logano a push to the lead on the final lap. Logano went on to win while Bell finished third after a photo-finish duel with Brad Keselowski for second.
Reddick was fifth, Hamlin sixth and rookie Ty Gibbs was ninth – his best career result – as Toyota placed four cars in the Top-10.
A missed opportunity?
After the race, both Hamlin and Reddick wondered aloud whether the Toyota drivers could have done more to work together to get one of them in the lead and possibly the win.
“I thought there was one opportunity there where we all were clear and we could have all pulled down in front of (Logano) and we didn’t,” Hamlin said. “That probably was the key moment for us, but overall, it is what it is.
“It’s probably the most Toyotas we’ve had in the top-10 all year. Just have to continue to get better. We just need more speed, more handling, more everything to get a little better.”
Sunday’s result certainly didn’t look possible in qualifying on Saturday, when Bell was the only Toyota to advance to the final round.
Bell officially earned the 10th starting position but had to begin the race at the rear of the field after he spun out on his final round qualifying attempt and his team made unapproved adjustments to his No. 20 Toyota.
In a race where it was difficult to make a lot of gains through the field, Bell’s performance shined even more.
“It was a pretty smooth day really. We started in the back and we were able to get up front and get some stage points at the end of Stage 1, so that was pretty cool,” Bell said.
“Stage 2, the green flag cycle didn’t really work our way. Ultimately, we were able to keep clean all day and put ourselves in position at the end of the race. That’s all you can ask for.”