Toyota drivers are still looking for their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win since last May, but they showed marked improvement Sunday from the season’s first four races.
Denny Hamlin led 56 laps at Auto Club Speedway, and Matt Kenseth, his teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, led 43 laps.
Neither finished well because of late problems. Hamlin was penalized when one of his tires rolled free during a pit stop, and he finished 28th.
“We had [a penalty] at the inopportune time,” Hamlin said. “You just can’t come back from that.”
Kenseth was leading the race when his Toyota suffered a broken axle as he left pit lane, which left him with a 31st-place finish.
Kenseth said his pit crew “kept getting me out with the lead and giving me a shot, so it’s disappointing.”
The top finishing Toyota driver was Carl Edwards, in 13th, who also races for Gibbs.
Buescher’s Cup debut
Chris Buescher, a 22-year-old Texan who mainly races in NASCAR’s second-tier Xfinity Series, finished 20th in his Cup debut after starting 33rd.
Buescher was tapped to drive the No. 34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports after Brett Moffitt, who had been scheduled to drive the car, replaced Brian Vickers in the No. 55 Toyota.
“It was a lot of fun,” Buescher said, although he acknowledged that “everything moved so fast and I really had no clue where we were going to finish coming to the checkered [flag].
“We completed the race, finished on the lead lap and got a top-20 out of it,” Buescher said. “I’m ecstatic about that.”
Vickers out three months
Vickers said he won’t be able to race for at least three months because of recurring blood-clotting problems.
“Needless to say, it’s pretty frustrating, but I’ve been here before,” Vickers said before Sunday’s race. “That’s life, and you just have to keep fighting and not give up.”
His team, Michael Waltrip Racing, said Thursday that Vickers would miss the race because of his ailment. Moffitt, filling in for Vickers, finished 22nd on Sunday.
Asked whether the problem might end his Cup career, the 31-year-old Vickers replied: “Am I worried? Of course. Have I given up hope? No.”
In the next three months, “I’ll try to figure out what makes sense with my doctors, if I can come back off of [the thinners] to go racing,” he said.