David Wilson acknowledges that Chevrolet was the dominant manufacturer by far in NASCAR last season, and as the 2024 season begins, Ford and Toyota are in chase mode.
But that’s not to discount the “strong year for Toyota” in 2023. Wilson, the president of Toyota Racing Development, called the group’s speed in the latter half of the season “second to none.” Not only were Toyota drivers often the fastest on any given weekend, but eight of the 16 polls earned throughout the season came in the final 10 races.
“So, we were not lacking for speed — and mind you that’s the hardest thing if you are,” Wilson said. “We were a little bit challenged with race craft, pit lane, consistency, and as we’ve talked about in particular with this new car, you’re not going to win a championship, you’re not going to win a race unless you perform flawlessly or near flawlessly in pit lane. That’s become a critical performance component in our sport. And I love it. That makes this sport so special. But we need to be better.”
Ford won eight races and walked away with the NASCAR Cup Series championship, claimed by Ryan Blaney. Chevrolet won 18 races in the Cup Series but claimed the manufacturers’ championship in all three series.
Toyota had 10 wins with four drivers in the Cup Series last season and one driver, Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing, represented in the championship race. None of those victories were in crown jewel events, although Denny Hamlin won the highly regarded Bristol night race.
Denny Hamlin had some highlights for Toyota last year, but Wilson (right) is looking for more from all of the manufacturer’s pack this season. Nigel Kinrade/Motorsport Images
This season, Toyota will have a third organization in its stable with the addition of Legacy Motor Club. It will be the first time since 2011 that Toyota has had eight full-time teams on track in the Cup Series. At times, it will be nine cars with the part-time schedule Jimmie Johnson is slated to run.
“I’d be very disappointed if we don’t pick up where we left off when it comes to speed,” Wilson said. “This new Camry body (pictured, top) is just badass, it really is, and we expect it to be better. We expect it to be better on the speedways; we’ve got two more cars — three with Jimmie — at Daytona, so we’re actually going to have a pack. Our pack has always been kind of disappointing but we’ve got some numbers now to work with.
“I’ll get right down to it — all four JGR cars should win, should make the playoffs. Ty Gibbs, I think this is his year. He’s coming into himself from a confidence perspective, from a performance perspective. We expect Ty to win this year. We expect 23XI (Racing) to do the same — to win, both cars to be in the playoffs.”
The unknown for Wilson and Toyota is Legacy Motor Club. Wilson describes it as a “stretch goal” for one of the two Legacy drivers (Erik Jones or John Hunter Nemechek) to earn a postseason berth. Jones has been a playoff driver before, but not with Legacy Motor Club. Nemechek is entering his second full season in the Cup Series.
Legacy Motor Club is also taking an independent approach to its program. Although it will have the resources, teammates, and data from the Toyota camp, Legacy Motor Club is not tied to the other organizations through an alliance and has brought its pit crews in-house.
“We’re standing with them shoulder to shoulder every week, helping them get better,” Wilson said. “But honestly, we’ve got a lot to be excited about.”
Toyota last claimed the Cup Series championship in 2019. It’s the same year as their last manufacturers’ championship in the series.