DAVE SCRETTA Associated Press
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Bubba Wallace was surprised in the best way when he learned this week that Legacy Motor Club, the team partly owned by longtime Chevrolet driver Jimmie Johnson, will be joining the Toyota team next season.
Not quite as good as the feeling he left Kansas Speedway last season.
“It was crazy,” said Wallace, who drives a Toyota for 23XI Racing, when asked what the biggest NASCAR Cup Series news has been in a while. “They’re excited because of the numbers, aren’t they? We have more numbers, more cars to play, especially on the circuits. We’re still the minority, but that helps for sure.”
Not that Toyota needs much help, especially at Kansas Speedway, where the 23XI cars head into Sunday’s race after sweeping the two on the 1.5-mile track last season. Kurt Busch won the spring race in the #45 car on a record day for the young team, then Wallace jumped out of his #23 to take the same car to victory lane in the race. ‘autumn.
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Add to that the fact that Martin Truex Jr. drove a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing to victory in Monday’s rain-delayed race at Dover and the manufacturer, long outnumbered by Chevy and Ford, has a momentum behind him.
“I’ve seen some of these discussions about Toyota being the first of the topics,” Wallace said, “so that’s good.”
The move by Legacy, which represents the shares of Petty Enterprises bought out by Johnson and Maury Gallagher, means Erik Jones will return to Toyota with Noah Gragson next season. This means there will be eight full-time cars in the field, rather than the six split between Gibbs and 23XI. And that in turn should make them all more competitive.
“We’re really excited about it,” said Tyler Reddick, who switched from Chevy to Toyota himself this season when he joined 23XI from Richard Childress Racing. “The more we have on the track, the more it helps, especially on superspeedways, but also having more crew chiefs and more spirits helps.
In the meantime, Wallace and Reddick will have each other – and all four Gibbs cars – at Kansas Speedway. And that’s been enough lately. Toyota has won five of the last seven races, including two moves by Denny Hamlin to victory lane.
“Obviously it feels good to come back here to Kansas and get back to what we did in the fall,” said Wallace, who held off team owner Hamlin for his second career victory, and first in a race that was not cut short by rain.
“I thought it was a really special weekend for us,” Wallace said.
Now the 23XI team has a chance for another special weekend. With Reddick at the controls of the #45 car, she could become the first to win three consecutive races at the same circuit with a different driver each.
“That would be really cool,” Reddick admitted. “But I mean, all of that aside, it’s about coming here and putting together a weekend and executing it. Both teams, the whole organization, are really, really excited and really want to see what we have a few months away from the last time we were here. Everyone is coming in with a lot of confidence.”
Next week is “Throwback Weekend” in Darlington, where teams bring back modern versions of old paint schemes. But when asked what else he would bring back from the 1990s, Kyle Busch had some ready-made answers: Dale Earnhardt, who died in a crash in 2001 on the last lap of the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the “No Bull Five”, which gave drivers the opportunity to race for an additional $1 million. “Miss Dale, of course,” Busch said.
Brad Keselowski is coming off an eighth-place finish at Dover, earning him a consecutive top-10 finish for the first time since joining RFK Racing. Keselowski won twice at Kansas Speedway while driving for Roger Penske.
NASCAR exposed the splitter that led to a $75,000 fine and 60-point penalty for the No. 3 team after its race at Martinsville Speedway. Two nuts and a center coupling on the splitter are supposed to be three different pieces, but they were glued together, allowing Richard Childress Racing to adjust the splitter before or during the race.
The team appealed the penalty, which dropped Austin Dillon to 31st in the points race. It was denied earlier this week.
Kyle Larson is the 4-1 favorite to win on Sunday, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. He won the eliminatory race from pole in 2021 and finished second in the spring race a year ago. … The last seven winners on one-and-a-half mile tracks have come from the top six starting positions. … Reddick started in the front row for Richard Childress Racing for both Kansas races last year. He finished 30th in the spring race after a mishap with vinyl wrap on the wall and 35th in the fall after a tire fell.