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Toyota Has Momentum, History on Their Side in Atlanta

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By Jason Schultz

Momentum means everything at the start of a new season. After being out of the car for nearly three months, drivers know performing well is crucial to set a positive tone for the year ahead.
Toyota captured the win in Daytona as Denny Hamlin edged out fellow Toyota competitor Martin Truex Jr. by 0.010 seconds in the “Great American Race.” Riding the momentum of the closest finish in Daytona 500 history, the manufacturer has a leg up on the competition heading to Atlanta.
The Camry's in NASCAR are as strong as they’ve ever been in their nine year history in the sport. Having built their program from the ground up, they’re beginning to see the fruits of their labor. After winning the championship last season, Toyota’s outlook for the new season was bright, and following Daytona, it’s even brighter.
The focus now shifts to Atlanta Motor Speedway, where eight years ago a victory of nearly equal significance to Hamlin’s occurred. In his fourth race with Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch took the checkered flag, securing his first win with the organization, and Toyota’s first in the Sprint Cup Series.
Now as Busch and Toyota return to the track as the defending series champions, and Hamlin climbs back behind the wheel after winning the Daytona 500, there’s plenty of confidence.
This confidence may stem from the low downforce package making its 2016 debut on Sunday. Last year, Gibbs captured both victories with the package at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway. While the package implemented last summer isn’t a mirror image of the one drivers will race this weekend — as the radiator pan size was increased from 25 to 33 inches — teams’ overall handle on the package won’t change much.
Last season, the JGR drivers racked up a lot of laps with the low downforce package in only two races. In Busch’s Kentucky victory, he dominated by leading 163 laps and proving that his team had the best understanding of the new package. When the package returned at Darlington, Carl Edwards captured the win, leading only 15 laps, but being out front when it mattered most. Teammates Hamlin and Busch also shared time in the top spot, leading 57 laps and three laps, respectively.
Based on the past performances of JGR drivers at Atlanta, they should be a strong force this weekend. In the win column, Edwards leads the team with three victories at the track, including his first career win in 2005. Busch has visited Victory Lane twice, most recently in 2013, and Hamlin won in 2012.
While Matt Kenseth hasn’t won at the speedway, he’s accumulated 10 top-five finishes. Along with his team’s success with this package, he will likely be a factor on Sunday.
Teams will use every advantage possible to secure a leg-up on the fierce competition in the Sprint Cup Series. Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota enter the weekend with momentum from their Daytona 500 victory and confidence with the low downforce package.
Another successful outing in Atlanta could allow the defending championship team to set the tone for the year, as they look to emerge as the favorite in 2016.

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