By Isaac Donsky, Staff Writer
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Toyota is not exactly in a good place. The most dominant manufacturer of the past decade has found themselves with just two full-time teams for 2021 and four total teams will be fielding Toyotas. It’s a far cry from 10 years ago when 13 teams fielded Toyotas for the 2011 season. How did Toyota go from 13 teams to four? Economics? The current state of the sport? Xenophobia against NASCAR’s only foreign manufacturer?
None of that matters. In my 14 years of watching NASCAR, I’ve learned one thing. Never count out a Toyota. They may be few in numbers but you can bet that they’ll be up at the front of the field.
Let’s meet this year’s Toyota teams.
Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR)
It’s hard to summarize JGR’s 2020 campaign. They had their dominant moments, such as Denny Hamlin finishing the year with the second-most wins. They also were uncharacteristically off. Kyle Busch, the defending series champion of 2019, failed to win until November. Martin Truex Jr. only scored a single win. Erik Jones failed to make the playoffs. By JGR standards, this was a terrible season.
This will be a make-or-break season for JGR. Jones is gone, and young Christopher Bell has taken his place with a lot of expectations. Retirement rumors have swirled around Truex all off-season, and both Busch and Hamlin are coming to the end of their peak years. JGR’s competitive bubble is shrinking, and with a massive number of young talents in the wings waiting for a chance, the old pros of this team are going to be racing with a ton of added pressure.
This team is going to be fun to watch in 2021. During the offseason, it was announced that Hamlin of JGR and Michael Jordan, former NBA star, would be forming a race team with William Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. as a driver. I couldn’t be happier.
Wallace’s story is inspirational. He’s spent the past three seasons driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, which is currently one of the worst teams in the sport. He regularly dragged his equipment to top-10 and top-5 finishes. He’s had to endure family deaths, sponsorship losses, and, due to him being NASCAR’s only black driver, racial abuse from some of the more deplorable members of NASCAR’s community. Despite all of that, Wallace continued to fight. Now he gets the chance of a lifetime; to drive for the greatest of all time, Jordan.
I think you can guess who my favorite driver in 2021 is going to be.
The Other Two Toyota Teams
Gaunt Brothers Racing: After enduring a season from hell, they scaled back their operations to a part-time ride. Veteran Ty Dillon and another driver, who has yet to be announced, join the team with hopes of righting the ship.
MBM Motorsports: Even if you have no interest in NASCAR, you have to pull for these guys. They have Maryland’s own Timmy Hill. They may not win, but they’ll make things interesting for a bit.
Well, that about wraps it up. It’s race week, and Daytona is only a few days away. I’ve spent the past three weeks breaking down the contenders and the non-contenders, and I can’t wait for the season to get started.