Less speed means no Toyota drivers in Top 5 at Pocono

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Was this weekend a success or a failure for Toyota Racing Development at Pocono Raceway? It depends on how you look at it.

With TRD’s decision to de-tune their engines for this weekend’s race as well as next weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway, the lack of horsepower proved costly as no Toyota drivers cracked the Top 5 in yesterday’s Party in the Poconos 400 – the first Sprint Cup race this year that didn’t see a Toyota driver finish there or lead a lap. Kyle Busch had a shot at a Top 5 at the end, but lost multiple positions on the final restart and wound up sixth.

But then there’s the fact there were no blown TRD motors for the first time in three weeks, which should be heartening for the manufacturer after another recent spate of high-profile engine failures.

TRD is striving for more reliability, which means everything in a series that puts consistency over all else. As we mentioned earlier this weekend, horsepower and performance has not been the problem for Toyota, but those two things mean nothing if all of their cars can’t be there at the end of the day regularly fighting for wins and Top-5 and 10s.

Still, at Pocono, the horsepower deficit didn’t make things easy for their drivers. Take Denny Hamlin for instance, who can ill-afford any problems with his engines as he tries to race for a wild-card berth in the Chase but nonetheless always wants to run up front.

“I think all of us had to play defense on the straightaway which is really tough, but I made the best of it,” said Hamlin, who finished eighth. “It’s about where I thought we would end up, but we need wins and we’re going to have to be aggressive and do everything we can to do that.”

With the Sprint Cup regular season now in the second half, Hamlin appears to be feeling more pressure to get himself into Chase contention (although for his part, he contended yesterday that he was “very optimistic” about his chances). But TRD knows that all the speed in the world will be of no help to Hamlin or their other drivers if the motors keep going back to the garage in smoking heaps.

It’s better for them to get their issues sorted and sacrifice a bit now – in hopes of  a championship payoff later.