An Earnhardt led at Daytona in a Supra! How did that happen?

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An Earnhardt led at Daytona in a Supra! How did that happen?
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Feb 21, 2019, 8:08 PM

Last weekend at Daytona, Toyota brought the Supra model to NASCAR in the Xfinity Series opener at Daytona. Although it didn’t win, it led its first laps in Jeffrey Earnhardt’s hands, Brandon Jones finished third and hot-shot prospect Christopher Bell pulled some bold moves in the pack to nail a top-six finish.

Jeffrey is the 29-year-old grandson of the legendary seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt, and has amassed more than 150 starts across NASCAR’s three national series – Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. He’s on a nine-race deal with Joe Gibbs Racing and started off on a high by recording a front-row start for the Supra – then led the first 29 laps before dropping back to finish 15th.

“There were a lot of highs for us in Daytona,” says Earnhardt. “We went out and did what I knew we would be able to do, and that was lead laps and run up front.

“It was a great way to kick off the season and Daytona is a special place for me personally, so that makes it just a little sweeter. From qualifying on the front row to earning those extra points in the first two stages, I really feel this is just the beginning of what will turn out to be the best season I’ve had in a long time.”

Earnhardt admits his lack of experience of running at the front proved costly in the closing stages.

“We didn’t lead the last one and that’s the most important one,” he says. “We made adjustments because I felt like I was complaining about it being too free, and we ended up getting it too tight there and we just struggled a little bit after that.

“Man, I was getting my butt kicked on everyone side drafting. Just lack of experience. I’ll get better at it.”

It’s an unlikely alliance, between an Earnhardt and Toyota, perhaps even more so when you consider that the Supra isn’t even available in showrooms just yet. But Toyota felt that the second-tier NASCAR series was the perfect place to announce its return to the forecourts.

“We think we're drawing a lot of attention,” says Ed Laukes, group vice president of Toyota’s marketing effort in the USA. “It's been 22 years since we've had Supra, and people have been asking for Supra to come back, and we worked really hard to get it back, and now it’s back.

“It's a very exciting time for us at Toyota, very exciting time to have us at Daytona.”

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Jeffrey Earnhardt, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra iK9, Brandon Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra Juniper, Noah Gragson, JR Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Switch

Jeffrey Earnhardt, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra iK9, Brandon Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra Juniper, Noah Gragson, JR Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Switch
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Photo by: Logan Whitton / NKP / LAT Images

Jeffrey Earnhardt, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra iK9 makes a pit stop

Jeffrey Earnhardt, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra iK9 makes a pit stop
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Photo by: Logan Whitton / NKP / LAT Images

Brandon Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra Juniper, Austin Cindric, Team Penske, Ford Mustang MoneyLion and Jeffrey Earnhardt, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra iK9

Brandon Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra Juniper, Austin Cindric, Team Penske, Ford Mustang MoneyLion and Jeffrey Earnhardt, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra iK9
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Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / LAT Images

Jeffrey Earnhardt, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra iK9 and Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing, Chevrolet Camaro LeafFilter Gutter Protection

Jeffrey Earnhardt, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra iK9 and Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing, Chevrolet Camaro LeafFilter Gutter Protection
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Photo by: Russell LaBounty / NKP / LAT Images

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra Rheem makes a pit stop, Sunoco

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra Rheem makes a pit stop, Sunoco
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Photo by: Logan Whitton / NKP / LAT Images

Jeffrey Earnhardt, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra iK9 Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra Rheem Brandon Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra Juniper Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing, Chevrolet Camaro LeafFilter Gutter Protection

Jeffrey Earnhardt, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra iK9 Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra Rheem Brandon Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra Juniper Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing, Chevrolet Camaro LeafFilter Gutter Protection
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Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / LAT Images

Justin Allgaier, JR Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro BRANDT Professional Agriculture and Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra Rheem

Justin Allgaier, JR Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro BRANDT Professional Agriculture and Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra Rheem
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Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / LAT Images

Jeffrey Earnhardt, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra iK9

Jeffrey Earnhardt, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra iK9
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Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / LAT Images

Jeffrey Earnhardt, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra iK9

Jeffrey Earnhardt, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra iK9
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Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / LAT Images

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra Rheem

Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Supra Rheem
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Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / LAT Images

Supra is clearly Toyota’s ‘halo’ car, as underlined by its ultra-stylish, 60-second ‘pinball’ ad during the Super Bowl halftime show – one of the most expensive advertising slots you can buy anywhere in the world. Supra’s launch at the Detroit Auto Show featured its heaviest of hitters too, including global chief Akio Toyoda and even its FIA World Endurance Championship star Fernando Alonso.

It then created even more hype by auctioning off chassis number one at Barrett Jackson, raising $2.1 million for charity. There’s no lack of effort or marketing dollars behind this project!

The big question, of course, is that with Ford bringing its Mustang to play with Chevrolet’s Camaro in the Cup Series, doesn’t it make sense for the Supra to come to Cup as well in future?

“Everybody asks that,” smiles Laukes. “We've talked about that for a while. We're still – unlike some of the other manufacturers – in the car business, and we plan on staying in the car business for a while. 

“Camry and Corolla are still a big part of our company. So at this point, we don't have any plans to bring Supra up to Cup, but you never know.”

The next opportunity will be NASCAR’s much-vaunted Gen-7 car in 2021. With the manufacturers heavily involved in the planning of the concept – there was a ton of meetings across the Daytona weekend between all the NASCAR stakeholders – will the shape of things to come be more Supra-like in general? Would NASCAR ever steer one of its non-Truck divisions away from the ‘traditional sedan’-shape?

Surely that would be as likely as an Earnhardt leading at Daytona in a Supra…

Toyota GR Supra Racing Concept

Toyota GR Supra Racing Concept

Photo by: Motor1

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