Toyota, Ford both have reason to celebrate the first results of new NASCAR Cup body styles

Clearly, the powers that be at Toyota had cause for deep concern after Wednesday night’s qualifying session at Daytona International Speedway.

In fact, Paul Doleshal, group manager of motorsports, Toyota North America, used the word “disturbed” to describe the reaction to the performance of the Toyota contingent in DAYTONA 500 time trials.

Both the Toyota Camry and Ford Mustang are sporting new body styles in the Cup Series this year.

In time trials, no Camry driver cracked the top 20. Erik Jones, who posted the fastest lap for the OEM, was 22nd on the speed chart. His Legacy Motor Club owner/teammate, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, qualified 35th and failed to make the race on speed.

On Thursday night, the picture brightened considerably for the Toyota camp. Camry drivers Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell swept the two Bluegreen Vacations Duel 150-mile qualifying races, and Johnson earned a spot in the Great American Race with a last-ditch effort approaching the finish line in the first Duel.

“I think we were a little bit disturbed — probably a strong word — but just surprised about the lack of qualifying speed,” said Doleshal during a Friday manufacturers question-and-answer session with reporters at Daytona. “But then felt that the car would race well, and that proved out, so we’re encouraged with that.

“I think it’s just where the car wants to sit and working on some things from a center perspective which the teams and TRD (Toyota Racing Development) are actively pursuing and already have been.”

Ford teams had a lot to celebrate on Wednesday night. Team Penske’s Joey Logano and Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell put their new “Dark Horse” Mustangs on the front row for the DAYTONA 500 with the two fastest laps in the final round of qualifying.

That broke a streak of 11 straight DAYTONA 500 pole positions for Chevrolet.

“We normally don’t place a lot of emphasis on qualifying here, because what matters at the end of the day is how the cars race,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports. “But it still was nice to get that front row, especially for Roger Penske. The pole here was on the list of accomplishments he wanted to add to. And really happy to see Front Row up there next to Penske.

“We were really curious to see how things were going to play out in the Duels, because that’s our first opportunity with the new car in traffic. We didn’t have the numbers in the first race, with only four or five Mustangs in there, but we certainly had the numbers in the second race, and we got a lot of feedback and comments from the drivers on the things that can be worked on with the setup to optimize that.

“At this point, we’re still very happy with the new car and looking forward to see how things play out through the weekend.”

Jim Campbell, vice president, performance and motorsports for General Motors, said the company had nothing to announce about a possible new model to race in NASCAR competition.

Chevrolet currently races the Camaro, but the last internal combustion engine (ICE) version of the car reportedly rolled off the assembly line in December.

“We are not making any announcements today, but we did say that Camaro is ending production,” Campbell said. “We are selling Camaros all through this year, and actually, some may remain in next year as well. 

“And as Scott Bell, who heads up our Chevrolet dealers, said, this is not the end of the Camaro story. But we have nothing to announce today.”

Chevrolet, which has 99 victories at Daytona across all three NASCAR national series, won 18 of 36 NASCAR Cup points races last year and captured the manufacturers’ championship. But Chevy had to share the spoils with Ford, which claimed the drivers’ title with Ryan Blaney.

“The manufacturers’ and drivers’ championships are goals that we put forth every season and in every series,” Campbell said. “We didn’t get all the way there, and it motivates us more at the end of that (Championship 4) race in Phoenix and when you go to the banquet.

“You see who is getting celebrated, and you get motivated. That is part of the excitement of racing is to come back the next season and go for it. And that is what we are doing.”