On a two-mile D-shaped speedway nestled among Michigan’s Irish Hills, Kyle Thomas Busch of Las Vegas on Saturday drove a Toyota Tundra in a NASCAR truck race. Busch finished fifth, leading 14 of 100 laps.
It was his 500th NASCAR start for Toyota.
Most people didn’t seem to care that much.
It was different when Kyle Busch first got behind the wheel of a NASCAR Toyota.
This was the first paragraph of the first story that a Google search on “NASCAR-Toyota” turned up. It was dated Jan. 24, 2006:
“NASCAR and Toyota Motorsports announced today that Toyota would expand their NASCAR program in 2007 to include the NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series. This announcement is bound to stir up strong feelings as some of the NASCAR faithful don’t believe that foreign manufacturers should be allowed in NASCAR …”
The story pointed out that most Toyota Camrys, the Camry being the model on which the Toyota NASCAR Cup car is predicated, are manufactured in Georgetown, Ky. It is only 176 miles from Georgetown to Owensboro, Ky., home of NASCAR’s Michael Waltrip.
Waltrip also would drive Toyotas; he now prepares them for his race teams. Or at least he has his mechanics do it.
Back then, they mostly called Waltrip a traitor. Or a Communist.
When Toyota announced it was coming into NASCAR after NASCAR said it was OK, a lot of stock-car racing people said — and I’m only paraphrasing here — “there goes the neighborhood.”
“We already got Chevys and Fords and Dodges,” they said. “We don’t need no stinkin’ Toyotas. We don’t need no ride-buyin’ furriners.”
At the time of the announcement, the Toyota Camry had been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. in eight of the past nine years. This year it’s No. 2, behind the Ford F-150; Toyota has four models among the top six. This was probably why NASCAR said it was OK for Toyota to join Chevy and Ford and Dodge a few years back.
Toyota didn’t win any Cup races in 2007, but that was mostly because Kyle Thomas Busch still was driving a Chevy then.
In 2008, he began driving a Toyota for Joe Gibbs, the old football coach.
In his first race in a Toyota, at the Daytona 500, Busch finished fourth.
In his fourth race in a Toyota, at the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta, Busch won.
It was Toyota’s first Cup series victory, the first win by a foreign manufacturer in NASCAR since 1954, when a guy named Al Keller won a race at an airfield in Linden, N.J., driving a Jaguar. NASCAR people mostly said they didn’t need any stinkin’ Jaguars, because they already had Oldsmobiles and Hudsons.
“A lot of the milestones mean a lot,” Busch said before Toyota start No. 500. “The first Sprint Cup Series win for myself at Joe Gibbs Racing, as well as Toyota, at Atlanta was a big one.
“Toyota has been a huge part of my career. I was obviously at Hendrick Motorsports with Chevrolet in the early days and won a little bit, but I never won as often and as much as I have in a Toyota vehicle. A huge part of what Toyota does helps Kyle Busch Motorsports stay alive and be successful (in the Camping World Truck series).”
A huge part of what Toyota does also helps Busch get to and from the convenience store when he needs a loaf of bread or a six-pack of Diet Coke. His everyday and favorite car among the five he owns is a Lexus LS460. Lexus is Toyota’s luxury brand. Busch and his wife, Samantha, own three of them, and I’ll bet they got good deals.
(Busch also has a ’69 Camaro, a ’56 Bel Air and a 2003 Chevy S10 truck, the first vehicle he purchased when he was old enough.)
As for Saturday’s race, the 29-year-old Busch said No. 500 mostly means “I’ve been running in too many races.”
“It’s obviously a bit of a milestone whether you run just Cup races and reach 500, or whether you run all three series and you reach 500. There’s been a lot of success in those 500 starts and yet some heartache as well,” he said.
“It’s exciting to have as many wins as I do have across all three series of NASCAR with the Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series. In those 500 starts, probably about 115 or 120 are wins in Toyota vehicles.”
For those keeping lap charts at home, it’s officially 114 wins for Busch in a Toyota.
That’s a lot of wins, 114 more than I have behind the wheel of a Toyota.
My Toyota is a Corolla, and it’s not as fast as those Camrys and Tundras that Kyle Busch drives. But I got a good deal on it at Findlay Toyota. At least that’s what the guy who leased it to me said. It also gets good gas mileage.
And when I drove it home and parked it in the driveway, nobody said “there goes the neighborhood.” Not even Joe across the street, who grew up in South Carolina not too far from where Cale Yarborough is from.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.