KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Every now and then there is an announcement in the NASCAR Cup Series that comes out of left field, and Legacy Motor Club’s switch to Toyota on May 2 was an announcement that took everyone by surprise.
The news was so well-kept that the Cup drivers for both Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing did not find out until the moment before the announcement went public.
“I was bumfuzzled by that announcement,” Bubba Wallace said. “It was crazy, I didn’t expect that. We were told about an hour before.”
LMC’s move to Toyota should expand Toyota to eight Cup teams in 2024, pending any expansion by 23XI. LMC’s current drivers, Erik Jones and Noah Gragson, are not new to the Toyota umbrella; Jones raced under the Toyota and JGR umbrellas from 2013 to 2020, while Gragson raced part-time in the Xfinity Series and full-time in the Craftsman Truck Series for the manufacturer in 2017 and 2018.
Tyler Reddick, who’s in his first year with Toyota and 23XI Racing, was excited about the move and the ability to work with more teams under the Toyota banner in Cup.
“We all got told [the news] at the same time, but yeah, I’m really excited about it, obviously,” Reddick said. “The more of us that we have out there on the racetrack certainly really helps at the superspeedways, but just having a larger pool of drivers and crew chiefs and minds that can share information with one another and work together.
“[…] I guess I don’t know how that’s going to work out. I don’t want to say anything for it yet, but that’s certainly, on the driver’s side, getting to work with Noah [Gragson] is going to be a lot of fun. Me and him worked together a lot when we were at Chevy, and Erik [Jones] is familiar with the Toyota camp and has had a lot of success with Toyota as well.”
Martin Truex Jr., last week’s winner at Dover Motor Speedway, echoed the same sentiments as Reddick.
“I think it’s good for us,” Truex said. “Anytime we get more cars in the Toyota camp, it’s more information, it’s more ideas being thrown around. And when we go superspeedway racing, it’s more partners for us that we struggled to not have. I think it’s good on all fronts.”
As one of the biggest Toyota prospects to rise through the NASCAR ranks, Christopher Bell was teammates with Jones and Gragson in the Xfinity Series between 2017 and 2018. Like Wallace, he, too, was surprised by the timing of the announcement.
“Yeah, honestly, I got a text message from TRD (Toyota Racing Development) an hour before it came out,” Bell said. “It caught me completely off guard. I don’t know who all was aware of it, but I’m sure a lot of people were caught off guard, myself included.
When asked about LMC during Saturday’s (May 6) media session, all the Toyota drivers gave their thoughts on the announcement and working with the two-car team. Except for Ty Gibbs, that is.
“I’m not going to speak about any of that right now,” Gibbs said.
As both a driver and team owner for Toyota, Denny Hamlin is one of the most important figures for Toyota in Cup. But while LMC has next year’s plans squared away, Hamlin’s contract with JGR expires at the end of the year. And as Hamlin revealed to the media, a new contract is far from completion.
“We’re working on [a contract],” Hamlin said. “It’s going to take time.”
Not all of the pieces are in place at the moment, but one thing is very clear: Toyota will be sporting a new-look lineup next season.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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