Toyota’s History of NASCAR Championship Failure Adds Another Stinging Chapter
Since arriving as a NASCAR competitor in 2007, Toyota has enjoyed considerable success in the Cup Series. With a trio of championships between 2015 and 2019, Toyota has earned significant accolades in its relatively short tenure. However, the manufacturer has several crushing disappointments under its belt.
In fact, Toyota’s history of mechanical failures during championship runs is both stunning and anomalous.
2008: Kyle Busch and Toyota go from first to worst in two races
Back in 2008, Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing joined forces for the first time, and driver Kyle Busch came to the team after a disappointing tenure at powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports. All three parties were struggling to put good results on the board, so it was easy to have low expectations.
But with eight wins in the first 26 races of the season, Kyle Busch and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry were at the top of the sport entering the championship Chase.
It took just two races for that to unravel.
At New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Busch’s Toyota Camry suffered a broken heim joint. The failure itself was so bizarre that most didn’t even realize it was possible. But the early suspension fault knocked Busch two laps down, and a later crash relegated Busch to a 34th-place finish, enough to drop him from first in points with a 30-point lead to eighth, 75 points back. At the time, Busch told the Associated Press, “You are stuck out there all day just riding it out, knowing for the rest of the Chase you have to play catch-up.”
That catch-up was not to be.
Things took another turn at Dover, where an engine failure knocked Busch out early, leaving him with a last-place finish. At that point, he was 12th in points, last among all contenders, and faced an insurmountable 210-point deficit. In that same race, Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota suffered a rear gear seal failure, relegating him to a 38th-place finish and knocking him out of contention.
2012: Denny Hamlin holds strong until a Toyota electrical problem
Four years later, Hamlin held a strong championship position deep into the playoff run. He and his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota remained in the hunt for a NASCAR championship until Martinsville, just three races from the end of the season.
Hamlin entered that race third, just 20 points behind eventual champion Brad Keselowski.
However, Hamlin’s Toyota suffered electrical problems throughout the day, leaving him with a 38th-place finish. That knocked him 49 points back in fifth, and he couldn’t recover, ultimately finishing sixth on the season after a mediocre showing the next week.
2022: Two Toyota engine failures knock Kyle Busch out of the first championship round
From 2013 to 2021, Toyota avoided its history of mechanical failures at critical points in the NASCAR playoffs. But in 2022, those faults came roaring back.
Darlington was the opening race in the 2022 Playoffs, and Kyle Busch led 155 laps and looked en route to a victory that would automatically advance him to the next round.
Instead, an engine failure under caution knocked him to a 30th-place finish and dropped him to 11th in the standings. A mediocre day in Kansas was followed by a second engine failure in three races during the Bristol Night Race. The combined results knocked Busch out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time.
2023: Three catastrophic failures end Toyota’s championship hopes
2023 proved even tougher for Toyota and its NASCAR title hopes.
At Homestead in the Round of 8, both Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin needed great runs to preserve their playoff hopes. Instead, Truex suffered an engine failure while Hamlin’s power steering failed, causing a crash. Even a second-place finish at Martinsville wasn’t enough to launch Hamlin into the Championship Race. And for Truex, it was just another blow in a difficult playoffs after he entered as the No. 1 seed and started the race on the pole.
That left only Christopher Bell to fight for Toyota in this year’s NASCAR championship. But yet another mechanical failure bit him, dashing Toyota’s 2023 title hopes for good. A brake failure saw Bell meet the Turn 3 wall at Phoenix, ending his title hopes.
Despite Toyota’s success, these mechanical failures cost them more trophies
Toyota has only been in the NASCAR Cup Series since 2007, so winning three championships is no small achievement. But the company has far more critical mechanical failures than championship successes to its credit.
Racing is fickle, but mechanical failures are one of the worst ways to lose a chance at a title. That Toyota has suffered so many mechanical problems has to be disappointing, motivating the manufacturer to get everything in tip-top shape for future seasons.