Toyota wins first Daytona 500 and more fans

Sun Feb 21, 2016 8:40pm EST
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By Lewis Franck

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - Toyota’s first Daytona 500 victory “was the greatest win in the company’s history” a spokesman said following Denny Hamlin's photo-finish victory in the Great American Race on Sunday.

After years of competing at the top of Indy car racing, including a victory at the Indy 500 in 2003, the company decided to switch gears and move into the previously all-American NASCAR stock car series.

Although the Camry, upon which the Joe Gibbs Racing's winning car is loosely based, is made in America, getting typical stock car fans on board was a big challenge.

Kyle Busch captured the Sprint Cup driver's title last season and now the Japan automaker finds itself at the top of the stock car world after winning the Daytona 500, the prime objective in making the move into NASCAR.

“The Great American race,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development.

"As we were looking at why we should come into NASCAR, that was a big part of it, to have a shot at winning the Great American race, to be able to talk to the incredible, powerful fan base that NASCAR has.”

The first year, 2007, started out poorly but when Joe Gibbs Racing, the team owned by the three-times NFL champion coach, switched over from General Motors, in 2008, the long slow ascent to the top began.

“It was incredibly humbling,” Wilson added, referring to the entry into the stock car scene. “But we didn't expect to succeed either.   Continued...

Feb 21, 2016; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11) beats NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. (78) to win the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports