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NASCAR 101: Former Toyota Development Drivers in Other Rides

Hendrick Motorsports may have finally found the final piece to the puzzle that returns the NASCAR Cup Series organization to its past dominance.

With William Byron‘s statement win in last Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400, some have begun to sing team owner Rick Hendrick’s praises for scooping up such an anticipated generational talent.

Byron’s journey to Chevrolet’s flagship team actually began in the Toyota developmental ranks driving a Kyle Busch Motorsports pickup in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

It is not uncommon for drivers to switch teams and manufacturers as they climb through the ranks, and Byron is the latest in a series of former Toyota competitors who have found tremendous success driving Ford or Chevrolets.

This trend is not the result of Toyota having a poor farm system; just look at the illustrious career arc of current Toyota superstar Denny Hamlin. However, it is a matter of limited availabilities at the top level.

Toyota arguably has the most robust driver development program in NASCAR but only has five Cup entries with full manufacturer backing (plus a part-time entry with partial support in Gaunt Brothers Racing), a stark contrast from Ford and Chevrolet, which are well into the double digits.

This has forced a slew of former Toyota drivers into non-Toyota Cup rides.

Joey Logano has been the poster child for this mass exodus. The once-highly touted Toyota hotshot landed in a Team Penske Ford after four lackluster years at Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s given Roger Penske a Daytona 500 win and a NASCAR championship.

Others like Matt DiBenedetto and Daytona 500 champion Michael McDowell were recruited into the sport by Toyota but where quickly let go, only to eventually find their way to the top rung of the NASCAR ladder after taking circuitous routes.

In fact, only two current Toyota Cup drivers were completely brought up by their manufacturer development program: Hamlin and Christopher Bell.

The only other current Toyota driver who has ties to the Japanese manufacturer is Bubba Wallace. The Alabaman initially drove Toyotas in the Trucks but quickly jumped into a top Ford developmental Xfinity ride. Wallace finally returned to Toyotas this season for 23XI Racing.

The remaining Toyota drivers, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and part-timer Ty Dillon, signed with Toyota well after their Cup careers were already established.

This has left several former development drivers to go fend for themselves. Of the 48 drivers who have attempted a Cup race this season, 14 were associated with the Toyota driver development program at one point or another but currently drive elsewhere. Here is the full list:

Driver Current Ride Former Toyota Relationship
Anthony Alfredo No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford Truck: Alfredo ran a part-time schedule for David Gilliland Racing in 2019.
AJ Allmendinger No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet (part-time) Cup, Truck: Allmendinger drove for Toyota teams between 2006 and 2008 after transitioning from a successful open-wheel career.
Aric Almirola No. 10 Stewart Haas Racing Ford Truck: Almirola competed for Kyle Busch Motorsports during the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Alex Bowman No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Ford NXS: Bowman ran the full 2013 season for RAB Racing. Also competed in the ARCA Menards Series East and West in 2011.
William Byron No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Truck: Byron won seven times driving for KBM in 2016.
Ross Chastain No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet NXS, Truck: Chastain ran a full 2012 Truck season for SS Greenlight Racing in a Toyota. Made select NXS starts in 2014.
James Davison No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet (Part-time) NXS: Davison garnered stock car experience running road courses for JGR in 2017 and 2018.
Matt DiBenedetto No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford Cup, NXS: DiBenedetto initially broke into NASCAR driving Xfinity cars for JGR in 2009 and 2010.
Erik Jones No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet Cup, NXS, Truck: Up until 2021, Jones spent his entire career under the Toyota banner dating back to his entrance in 2014.
Corey LaJoie No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet Cup, NXS: LaJoie ran sporadically under the JGL Racing NXS banner in 2016 and 2017.
Joey Logano No. 22 Team Penske Ford Cup, NXS: Logano was in a Toyota from 2008 until 2012 when he got the boot from JGR and landed at Penske.
Michael McDowell No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford Cup, NXS: McDowell was a highly touted prospect for Michael Waltrip Racing in the late 2000s.
Ryan Preece No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet NXS: Preece got his big break when he signed on part-time with JGR’s NXS program in 2017 and 2018.
Daniel Suarez No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet Cup, NXS, Truck: Suarez was once regarded as the next Toyota star and even spent two years at the Cup level before getting the boot.

Not included amongst the list are drivers such as Kyle Larson, who was brought into the Toyota farm system in the ARCA ranks.

Kurt Busch, Derrike Cope, Joey Gase, Justin Haley, Timmy Hill, BJ McLeod, David Ragan, Garrett Smithley and Cody Ware have made sporadic starts in the undercard ranks in a Toyota but were never under a development contract.

Hill is the lone driver from that contingent who still drives a Toyota. However, his Cup and Xfinity rides have little to no support from the manufacturer.

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Mike

Hamlin was not a product of the Toyota “farm system”. He was a JGR product, when JGR was Chevy, and spent 2005 in Busch in a chevy, 2006-7 in Cup in Chevys. He’s a JGR product.

The same is true of Matty D and Logano. Both were JGR products before JGR switched to Toyota. Matty D drove in Busch North, as did Logano, under JGR, in Chevys, prior to being in Toyotas.

Echo

Sad that you have to do their research for them. Without your post most would have believed it to be true. thanks.

Mike

Thanks. I never comment, but this was just wrongly stated. I just knew this off the top of my head. Being a racing fan for so many years. It was just common knowledge for me.

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