In a lot of ways, racing at Martinsville should be considered a wild card event. There are so many circumstances that could affect the outcome and give teams a false sense of security.
For example, a pit road speeding penalty played a major role in keeping Jeff Gordon out of Victory Lane. That was a fluke. The domino effect allowed Denny Hamlin to bring home a win for Toyota for the first time in something like a gazillion races. Okay, it was only 31 races, but in NASCAR, that is an eternity. Looking back, the last time Toyota was in Victory Lane was with Hamlin.
So, does this mean the Toyota slump is over? Doubtful. Toyota is behind and it has been for some time. In 2013, the Toyota camp won 13 of 36 races in the Sprint Cup Series. In 2014, it brought home a trophy only twice. It was an abysmal year and things just don’t change overnight. One win does not make nearly an entire season of poor performances evaporate into thin air.
Don’t misunderstand, three top fives for Joe Gibbs Racing is a good start to turning things around, but it is only one race. What happened to Carl Edwards? He is arguably one of the best drivers in the garage and he has had his own struggles.
All in all, Sunday was a good day for Toyota but any proof that they have found a magic bullet won’t be known until we get down the road. The series is off next week for the traditional Easter break but when the Sprint Cup Series descends on Texas – a fast 1.5-mile oval – all eyes will be watching to see if the win at Martinsville was just a lucky break.
Remember, Gordon had one of the dominant cars at Martinsville. His mistake played a key role in Toyota ending its winless streak.
On a different note, Danica Patrick matched her best-ever finish in the Sprint Cup Series. She and crew chief Daniel Knost have been together for nine races and she scored a seventh-place finish. Is that a sign that she has turned things around? Probably not.
In her post-race interview, Patrick said that in order for her to run well, it takes the team giving her a good car. It would be an insult to Stewart-Haas Racing to think she was somehow slighted in the past, considering Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart have both won championships running the same equipment.
“Somebody asked me about being good here, and I said I’ve been driving for a good team the whole time,” Patrick said. “The car has to be good or I can’t go fast, and the first half of the race was a perfect example of that. When the car is right you can go fast, but if the driver is making mistakes and not doing a good job and crashing or getting off line, that also won’t help you have a good result. And then overall, we can’t do well, I can’t do well if the team doesn’t provide the people and the equipment that I need to perform. And so a couple of years ago if you would have asked how we all felt everything was going on the team, there probably wouldn’t be a lot of positive things to say. But that’s an example of an organization digging deep and finding ways, and by all means the last couple of years here, we’ve been much stronger, and it makes it much more fun out there.”
If you read that statement in a vacuum, you might believe that Patrick’s performance issues were caused by her former crew chief and crappy cars and not because she hasn’t done her job on the track. Of course, SHR has some of the best cars in the garage and her former crew chief is a legend on pit road. At present, Patrick is 16th in points and having a decent start to 2015. It is a contract year for her, and the word on the street is that GoDaddy is looking to put its money elsewhere in 2016. It’s a safe bet that she will need more days like Sunday, as the season goes forward, if she expects to stay at one of the top teams in the sport.
In that respect, she and Toyota have something in common. They need more than one good run to convince fans, sponsors and, most importantly, themselves, that things have turned around.