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Srigley Stats: Toyota Strikes First with New Short Track Aerodynamic Package

This week, #SrigleyStats explores a warning shot from Toyota, Blaney's title defense in the making, Joe Gibbs Racing's quick study, and the success of NASCAR's new short track package.

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hero image for Srigley Stats: Toyota Strikes First with New Short Track Aerodynamic Package

After a three-race stretch with nothing to write home about, Toyota Racing Development (TRD) is leaving Avondale, Arizona on Sunday evening having fired off a major warning shot to the remainder of the NASCAR Cup Series field.

For the first time this season - and the first time since debuting the Toyota Camry XSE at the start of 2024 - the manufacturer has visited Victory Lane, ending a four-race win streak by drivers in the Chevrolet camp. And, by no stretch of the imagination was it a quiet victory, either.

Christopher Bell ended the afternoon hoisting the Shriners Children's 500 trophy in Victory Lane at Phoenix Raceway, but throughout the entire event, there was a Toyota-supported driver in control.

In total, five of the manufacturer's eight entries held the lead throughout Sunday's event, including all four entries from Joe Gibbs Racing -- the first time the organization has done so since Pocono in 2022, and the first time in the team's history that all four drivers have led 50-plus laps in a race.

The only time during Sunday's event at Phoenix where a Toyota wasn't listed at the top of the scoring pylon was a 14-lap stretch where Todd Gilliland and Front Row Motorsports stayed on the racetrack during a cycle of green-flag stops while banking on a caution that never came.

Tyler Reddick and Denny Hamlin (68) led the way in laps led for Sunday's event, with Ty Gibbs (57), Martin Truex, Jr. (55), and Christopher Bell (50) each taking their turns at the front for a portion of the fourth race of 2024.

It's the first time in the history of the NASCAR Cup Series that a single manufacturer has had five of its drivers lead more than 50 laps in a single event.

While they didn't spend any time out front on Sunday, Toyota's other three drivers also had strong weekends, with both Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace spending time inside the top five.

And, while John Hunter Nemechek did struggle in Sunday's event, he had some pace in Friday's 50-minute practice session, posting a time good enough for fourth overall.

Leading 298 of 312 circuits (95.51%) around the one-mile Phoenix Raceway, Toyota managed to have the most dominant performance by a manufacturer since Ford Performance obliterated the field at this same track to end the 2022 season.

The victory marks the 181st for the manufacturer in the NASCAR Cup Series, which ranks them fifth-place all-time, behind Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, and Plymouth.

Needless to say, after the strength of the Toyota Camry XSE with the new short-track aerodynamic package, there will surely be more where that came from -- and it could come from any of the automaker's eight full-time competitors, or who knows, maybe even Jimmie Johnson?

Photo Credit: Chris Graythen, Getty Images

BLANEY MOUNTING STRONG TITLE DEFENSE

It's way too early to be talking about Ryan Blaney winning back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series championships, right? While that is probably a true statement, it's becoming increasingly difficult to look the other way as the Team Penske driver continues to knock out terrific performances each and every week.

Just four races into a grueling NASCAR Cup Series campaign, the defending champion is leading the regular-season points, while also leading the series as the only driver with three top-five results.

Dating back to last season, Blaney has recorded eight top-six finishes in his last 10 Cup Series starts, an incredible stretch of finishes that includes two victories, five top-two finishes, and an additional podium result.

In that period, the High Point, North Carolina native took control of the NASCAR Cup Series field, outscoring everybody by 40-plus points -- especially spectacular when you consider the championship form drivers like William Byron and Kyle Larson were in at the end of 2023.

Sunday's Shriners Children's 500 at Phoenix Raceway was another example of making the best out of a difficult afternoon, starting outside the top-15 and adjusting on his No. 12 Advance Auto Parts Ford Mustang until it had speed to compete inside the top five.

Now, heading to Bristol, Blaney continues to soar high above the remainder of his Team Penske companions, having three top-10 finishes compared to a combined two top-10s from Joey Logano, Austin Cindric, and Harrison Burton.

Now, give Blaney, Team Penske, and Ford Performance some time to figure out the newly-redesigned Mustang Dark Horse, and well... we may have the series' first back-to-back champion since Jimmie Johnson's record-breaking five consecutive titles.

Photo Credit: David Rosenblum, NKP

GIBBS PROVING TO BE A QUICK STUDY

As is to be expected, the NASCAR Cup Series has provided a little bit more of a challenge for Ty Gibbs than his tenures in both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and ARCA Menards Series. However, with his first full-time season in the books, the grandson of Joe Gibbs Racing patriarch Joe Gibbs is starting to get his bearings.

For the 21-year-old driver, the weekend began by holding up the tail-end of a front row sweep for Joe Gibbs Racing, matching a career-best second-place starting spot from last Fall at Martinsville Speedway. Once the race began on Sunday, Gibbs was a monster (no pun intended), immediately putting his No. 54 Toyota Camry XSE at the head of the field, leading 57 laps -- his first laps led of the 2024 season.

After some hiccups in the middle of a green-flag pit cycle, Gibbs had tumbled down the running order to a position outside the top-15, the furthest back the second-year driver had fallen on merit throughout Sunday's 312-lap contest. That loss of track position allowed Chris Gayle to get creative with strategy, bolting two tires on the No. 54 for what ended up being an 80-lap run to the finish.

When the dust settled, the Charlotte, North Carolina native walked away from Avondale, Arizona with a career-best third-place finish, coming home behind teammate Christopher Bell and Chris Buescher, who got by Gibbs in the closing laps of the race, as the NASCAR Xfinity Series champion recorded back-to-back top-five finishes for the first time in his career.

Now, just four races into his second full-time season at NASCAR's top level, Gibbs has recorded a pair of top-five results, along with three top-10s, and a series-leading average finish of 8.75 -- joining Ross Chastain as the only driver with single-digit average finishes this season.

All of this strength - the consecutive top-fives, laps led, race-winning speed - comes just seven days before the series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway, a facility in which both Gibbs and Joe Gibbs Racing have found success in their NASCAR Cup Series tenures. Could Ty Gibbs be NASCAR's next first-time winner? All signs are pointing to yes.

Photo Credit: David Rosenblum, LAT Images, Courtesy of Toyota Racing

NASCAR MAKING SHORT TRACK GAINS?

Entering Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series event at Phoenix Raceway, one of the biggest storylines on the minds of drivers, teams, and industry personnel was the in-race debut of NASCAR's newly modified aerodynamic package for short track and road course events in 2024. Following Friday's extended practice, reviews were mostly critical, but what did the numbers have to say about the package's on-track performance?

Aside from the obvious eye test, which lends itself to certain biases based on the person observing, can be challenging to find stats that determine whether or not the package was a year-over-year improvement.

Looking at the most basic statistic, the Shriners Children's 500 saw 2,813 green flag passes recorded through the event's 312-lap duration -- the most of any NextGen event at Phoenix and the most at the one-mile facility since the Spring of 2021.

Those numbers aren't the end-all and be-all, though, and aren't always the perfect indicator of whether an aerodynamic package is having a successful on-track showing.

Looking specifically to the race's final run, both Christopher Bell (P1) and Ty Gibbs (P3) were able to slice through the disheveled pack and return to positions inside the top five, proving that passing was indeed possible with this package.

Denny Hamlin and Tyler Reddick weren't as successful getting through traffic in the final stage, not making the proper adjustments to thrive in dirty air, a situation neither had experienced to that point in the race.

The most significant display of an improved aero and tire program this weekend was a late rally by Martin Truex, Jr., who was forced to make a green-flag stop inside the race's final 50 laps.

Exiting the pits off the lead lap and outside the top-20, the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series used his tire advantage to mow down the field, rebounding to finish in seventh place, just 13 seconds off the lead.

Was the new short-track package a home run? No, but it was certainly an improvement. As far as the next steps, though, it will take more than a one-race sample to determine this configuration's viability for the future.

Photo Credit: David Rosenblum, LAT, Courtesy of Toyota Racing

#SrigleyStats is a weekly feature piece on Racing America, written by Joseph Srigley, that highlights some of the most interesting stats from the NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series, and Truck Series race weekend.

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