Toyota makes a big splash at Daytona 500

When Toyota broke into NASCAR, it was uncertain whether Japanese cars and the sport would mix. There are no such doubts now.

A Toyota won the Daytona 500 for the first time, and the manufacturer had four cars in the top five. The performance came after a 2015 season in which Toyota won the Brickyard 400, NASCAR All-Star race and Sprint Cup championship with Kyle Busch.

“I cannot articulate adequately what this means to Toyota,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development. “I’ll start by saying it’s our single biggest race in our company’s history.”


Toyota’s NASCAR history began in 2004 when it became the first foreign-based manufacturer to compete in the Craftsman Truck Series. At least one driver didn’t like the thought of a Japanese car invasion.

Jimmy Spencer reminded people that the Japanese “bombed Pearl Harbor. Don’t forget.”

Toyota started competing in the Nextel/Sprint series in 2007. It struggled for years against Ford and Chevrolet.

Usually overlooked was that Toyota builds cars in the United States, including more than 10 million Camrys in Kentucky. Breaking into NASCAR was part of Toyota’s marketing makeover. The nickname of the Daytona 500 was a clincher.


“The Great American Race,” Wilson said. “To have a shot at winning the Great American Race, to be able to talk to the incredible powerful fan base that NASCAR has.”

It’s a finish for the record books

The closest finish in Daytona 500 history was too close for runner-up Martin Truex Jr.

He joked that’d he’d be haunted by watching highlights of the finish for the rest of his life. But Truex was also encouraged by his best performance in a Daytona 500.


“It hurts a little bit,” he said, “but there’s a lot to be proud of as well.

Daytona drought ends for Joe Gibbs

The victory ended at 23 years a Daytona drought for Joe Gibbs, the first man to coach a Super Bowl champion and win the race as a team owner. This was his second victory.

“I’ve been blessed beyond belief,” Gibbs said. “Most people never get to have dream in life, and I’ve had two.”


Doug Flutie attends race

Former quarterback Doug Flutie attended the race and was reminded by spectators of his last-play pass that lifted Boston College over Miami in 1984.

They chanted “The U, the U” at Flutie.

“They all feel like they know me,” Flutie said of Hurricanes fans. “I made my name on that play in the Orange Bowl and people think they know me, or hate me, or whatever comes first.”


When not working as an analyst on Notre Dame football games on NBC, Flutie spends most of his time at home in Florida, where he recently took up surfing.

“It’s been a blast,” Flutie said of his job. “It’s relative light lifting for me because it’s seven homes games, but it’s all relevant games. Notre Dame is always in the national hunt. It keeps me relevant and now that I’m in the booth doing the games, I feel like a quarterback again.”

Flutie sees a lot of similarities between the Daytona 500 and another major sporting event.

“The atmosphere is like coming to a Super Bowl. ... The exposure to NASCAR has been awesome,” Flutie said.