Race Weekend Central

Stat Sheet: Toyota Has Golden Ticket for Championship Weekend

If your favorite NASCAR Cup Series driver drives a Toyota, good news: the manufacturer blew the doors off everyone else at the track that decides a championship.

Christopher Bell won Sunday’s (March 10) Shriners Children’s 500 at Phoenix Raceway and he had a long-run car that could almost move through the field at will.

On the final restart with 92 laps to go, Bell pitted for four tires, restarted 20th and won the race by 5.465 seconds — the largest margin of victory in the Cup Series’ Next Gen era, no less.

See also
Monday Morning Pit Box: Christopher Bell, Ty Gibbs Overcome Slow Stops at Phoenix

It wasn’t just Bell who stole the show, however, as five Toyotas drivers led at least 50 of the 312 laps — Bell (50), Denny Hamlin (68), Tyler Reddick (68), Martin Truex Jr. (55) and Ty Gibbs (57).

The quintet didn’t just dominate in the laps led total, as they also had the five highest average running positions (ARP) and the five highest fastest lap totals of all drivers on Sunday.

RankDriverFinishARP
1Tyler Reddick104.8
2Denny Hamlin116.0
3Ty Gibbs36.3
4Christopher Bell17.8
5Martin Truex Jr.77.9
6Ryan Blaney59.2
6William Byron189.2
8Brad Keselowski49.6
9Chase Elliott199.9
10Noah Gragson1210.4
RankDriverFinishFastest Laps
1Christopher Bell154
2Martin Truex Jr.743
3Denny Hamlin1133
4Tyler Reddick1026
5Ty Gibbs318
6William Byron1813
7Ryan Preece2311
8Zane Smith2910
9Chris Buescher29
9Ryan Blaney59

The five Toyotas held the top spot, ran toward the front all day and were the quickest cars on the stopwatch. For Chevrolet and Ford, watching such a performance had to be demoralizing.

See also
Thinkin’ Out Loud: Who Cares About the Other 34 Races? Only Phoenix Matters

Even more demoralizing since the 2024 championship will be decided at Phoenix on Nov. 10, and in the Next Gen era, the manufacturer that dominates at Phoenix in March consistently dominates in November.

Laps led by MakePHX 3/22PHX 11/22PHX 3/23PHX 11/23PHX 3/24PHX 11/24
Ford248310374514?
Chevrolet6422802520?
Toyota00015298?

Ford led 89.4% of the laps at Phoenix in 2022 (558 of 624), and it swept both Phoenix races with Chase Briscoe and Joey Logano — the latter of whom won the championship. Last year, Chevrolet led 84.6% 532 of the 629 laps and swept both Phoenix races with William Byron and Ross Chastain. Chevrolet did not win the championship, however, as Chastain had already been eliminated from title contention. Ryan Blaney of Ford won the title by finishing in second place.

Meanwhile, Toyota almost felt doomed from the start when the cars hit the track at Phoenix in 2022 and 2023. They combined to lead a whopping 15 laps at Phoenix in the last two years (all of which came in last season’s finale), and the manufacturer was shut out of the top five in both finales. Toyota only had a total of two top-five finishes at Phoenix with the Next Gen car before Sunday.

FinishPHX 3/22PHX 11/22PHX 3/23PHX 11/23
1Chase Briscoe (Ford)Joey Logano (Ford)William Byron (Chevy)Ross Chastain (Chevy)
2Ross Chastain (Chevy)Ryan Blaney (Ford)Ryan Blaney (Ford)Ryan Blaney (Ford)
3Tyler Reddick (Chevy)Ross Chastain (Chevy)Tyler Reddick (Toyota)Kyle Larson (Chevy)
4Ryan Blaney (Ford)Chase Briscoe (Ford)Kyle Larson (Chevy)William Byron (Chevy)
5Kurt Busch (Toyota)Kevin Harvick (Ford)Kevin Harvick (Ford)Chris Buescher (Ford)

Sunday was a complete reversal from the Toyota futility shown above. The manufacturer led 298 of the 312 laps after leading a combined 15 laps in the four prior Phoenix races, and the only 14 that Toyota didn’t lead on Sunday were by Todd Gilliland via an off-sequence pit strategy.

With how much Toyota dominated every facet of Sunday’s race, it will be tough for Chevrolet or Ford to discover what Toyota found and catch up — if they even can.

Therefore, I am going to go out on a limb and say that a Toyota driver will win the championship, and it will be one of the five dominators we just saw at Phoenix — Bell, Gibbs, Truex, Reddick or Hamlin.

Which one of the five it will be remains to be seen.

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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