Who Got it Right? New NASCAR Toyotas, Fords Start Fast at Daytona

Jackson Wheeler
6 Min Read


  • Two of the three NASCAR OEMs—Ford and Toyota—have new cars for 2024.
  • The Ford Mustang Dark Horse flexed its horsepower muscle in Wednesday night qualifying for the Daytona 500, claiming three of the top five positions.
  • Toyota came back the next night at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway and swept Thursday’s two Bluegreen Vacations Duel 150-mile qualifying races.

New race cars can produce one of two scenarios for the OEMs: One the car performs just as designed or two it becomes a nightmare.

After two Daytona 500 preliminary events, neither Toyota nor Ford have a definitive answer as to which they face.

Ford controlled qualifying, claiming the pole and front row for the first time since 2012. Toyota came back the next night at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway and swept Thursday’s two Bluegreen Vacations Duel 150-mile qualifying races. After talking with drivers and analyzing data, the men overseeing both manufacturers’ motorsports programs know there’s still work to be done.

Ford Performance Motorsports Global Director Mark Rushbrook said the OEM had received “a lot of feedback” from the drivers and “some things that can be worked on with the setup.”

Paul Doleshal, Toyota’s group manager motorsports Toyota Motor North America, doesn’t believe they have “a lot of worries.”

nascar cup series daytona 500 qualifying

Sean Gardner//Getty Images

The Ford Mustang Dark Horse cars of Michael McDowell, left, and Joey Logano, right, will start this year’s Daytona 500 on the front row.

“We know there is a learning curve anytime you change a body or a major component like that, especially from an aerodynamic standpoint,” Doleshal said. “I think it’s just figuring out where the car wants to sit and kind of working on some of the things from a setup perspective, which the teams and TRD will be actively pursuing and already have been.”

The Ford Mustang Dark Horse flexed its horsepower muscle in Wednesday night qualifying, claiming three of the top five positions, while the new Toyota Camry had a dismal showing, failing to crack the top 10. Doleshal admitted they were “surprised” at the new Camry’s lack of qualifying speed.

“We didn’t really know where we were going to fall with this car in qualifying trim,” said Tyler Reddick, winner of Thursday night’s first qualifying race.

Christopher Bell, who won the second qualifying race, said Wednesday night’s qualifying experience left them not knowing what to expect in the Duels.

“I think a lot of the drivers remained confident going into racing conditions that the car would work better in the draft,” Reddick said.

Doleshal agreed.

Rushbrook said Ford was “curious” about how things would play out in the qualifying races. There were only four Fords in the first qualifying race and pole position winner Joey Logano produced the best finish with a seventh. Chris Buescher took 10th, Ryan Preece 13th and Todd Gilliland 17th.

More than half of the cars in the second qualifying race’s 21-car field were Ford’s Mustang Dark Horse. Half of the top 10 were Fords but only two finished in the top five—Austin Cindric in second and Harrison Burton in fifth. Still, Rushbrook said they were “very happy with the new car.”

Reddick noted that in the first qualifying race the Toyotas “handled good” in the top lane and were “able to make steam” once they began racing. He said the new Toyota afforded more opportunities to be aggressive.

Bell says the objective with the new Toyota was to design it so it would push “a little bit better” so that when cars attached “it wouldn’t make the car getting pushed so squirrelly.”

“I think they accomplished that,” Bell says. “We were able to push very successfully. It seemed like the guys receiving the pushes were able to stay under control more than what they could with the previous version of the car.

“The new Camry really showed its strength with myself, John Hunter (Nemechek) and Denny (Hamlin) on the bottom line being able to move our way back up forward compared to the Fords on the outside. That was rewarding to be able to have that pace and claw back to the front. We certainly didn’t plan on qualifying well, but our hopes were that it would race well, and it certainly did.”

Toyota hasn’t won a superspeedway race since the current NASCAR Cup car was introduced in 2022. Bell believes that could change this year with the speed the new Camry demonstrated in the qualifying races.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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