Toyota has made great strides in its second season in NASCAR's Cup and Nationwide series, wrapping up the manufacturers' championship in the latter with Denny Hamlin's win last Saturday at Kansas Speedway.
But Toyota Racing Development president Lee White says that Kyle Busch, Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, is the driver who has made this a special year for the company.
The 23-year-old has given Toyota 19 wins this season - eight in Cup, eight in Nationwide and three in trucks.
"I would have to be extremely honest and say that Kyle Busch probably has us ahead of schedule," White said. "Even with Joe Gibbs Racing joining our ranks (last winter), no one would have believed that they would have made the transition from 12 or 13 years with another manufacturer to our brand and learned to mesh with TRD and our type of engineering support and had the type of success that they enjoyed early this season.
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"Frankly, if you take Kyle Busch out of the equation, our success ratio is just about where everybody would have thought it should have been: win a couple of races, have a shot in more and, hopefully, two or three guys in the Chase. Not to take anything away from any of our drivers or any of our teams — certainly not taking anything away from Tony (Stewart) or Denny, they're great drivers and everybody has great futures — but Kyle has had an extraordinary year.
"I think anybody you talk to in the industry would agree that he's had an extraordinary year."
Busch easily led the regular-season points, but has stumbled out of the blocks in the Chase, falling from first to last in the 12-man playoff after the first three of 10 postseason races.
"He's had a career year, without question," White said. "But NASCAR racing, with the Chase format, timing's everything."
Asked about winning the title in the Nationwide Series, White said he was proud of the way the Toyota teams bounced back after NASCAR cut back on the horsepower in their engines at midseason.
"I think it really speaks well for our teams that, in spite of a bit of a slap, they were still able to get past that and come back and compete with people and win races," White said.
"Certainly, it's the first of many. We're going to be here for a long time and we're not here to watch, we're here to participate and, hopefully, have a shot."