Where are the Toyota drivers, anyway?
Though it’s a question that has gone un-asked in the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, it’s a stable one this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
With only one Toyota starting in the top 6 for Saturday night’s Bank of America 500, it’s a breath of fresh air for the rest of the field, as Toyota has won four of the last five races.
Despite the recent dominance, Thursday night qualifying saw Chevrolet field four teams in the top 6, with Hendrick Motorsports rookie Chase Elliott in third, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Tony Stewart fifth and JTG Daugherty Racing’s AJ Allmendinger in sixth.
Additionally, Alex Bowman and Kevin Harvick swept the top 2 in both practice and qualifying, proving to be the two quickest cars so far this weekend.
So, with a healthy level of diversity up front, what can we expect for race No. 1 of the Round of 12?
Firstly, you may not want to put all your money on a Chaser to take the win. Flying to the front row of the grid in qualifying, Bowman reported an overall “balanced” racecar throughout Thursday practice before missing the pole position by only 0.004 seconds.
Stewart, the recently eliminated Chaser, followed SHR teammate Harvick by 0.113 seconds, while Allmendinger grabbed his best starting spot since Martinsville in April. Though they will both be considered surprise winners, their race will lack Chase stress, making the task more straightforward than ever.
Though outside the the top 10, Kasey Kahne, Danica Patrick and Greg Biffle showed much-needed speed, as they line up 12th through 14th, respectively.
Kahne, who hasn’t finished worse than 20th since New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July, once had a hold of this place, winning the Coke 600 three times from 2006 to 2012 and led a combined 299 laps here in 2013 alone.
Now, don’t write off the Toyota guys just yet.
Qualifying seventh, Martin Truex, Jr. is driving the car that broke NASCAR records in May at Charlotte, leading 392 of 400 laps in the Coca-Cola 600. And it’s worth noting that the last time Truex qualified worse than sixth, he won at Darlington Raceway.
Right in his wake is Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin, who’ll each compete for spots in the upcoming Round of 8 following Talladega Superspeedway. Hamlin, in fact, has 10 top-10 finishes in the last 11 races.
With track position slightly out of their favor, in reality, they are lacking a few yards to start in a 500-mile race.
Unfortunately for some, their lack of track position is a little more severe for Saturday. Notably, Chasers Austin Dillon and Brad Keselowski only managed 19th and 20th spots on Thursday, while Kurt Busch just advanced to Round No. 2 before finishing in the 23rd spot, the lowest of the 12 Chasers.
Whether the results were surprisingly high or surprisingly low, Saturday night has the potential to see some new faces in different places as we begin the Round of 12.