Momentum Shifts To Gibbs

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - After Hendrick Motorsports got off to a great start, the tide seems to have swung in favor of Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota as Speedweeks rolls on.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s Budweiser Shootout and Gatorade Twin 150 wins along with Jimmie Johnson's Daytona 500 pole seem like distant memories of late.

With Denny Hamlin's win for Gibbs in Thursday's second qualifier, Todd Bodine's Craftsman Truck Series victory Friday night and Tony Stewart's Nationwide win Saturday, suddenly it's JGR and Toyota dominating headlines.

Hamlin isn't surprised.

"I definitely was a big guy that liked to switch over to a Toyota," Hamlin said of JGR's move from Chevrolet. "We knew they had a lot of resources that we were not able to do with the 400 or so employees that we have at Joe Gibbs Racing."

"I definitely was a guy that was behind it a hundred percent. It's finally starting to pay off. I think they had some engine issues last year they said they wanted to work on, mainly being corner exit. It feels like from my standpoint they've got that fixed."

The sudden dominance by Toyota is a far cry from where the manufacturer was a year ago when it struggled mightily in its Cup Series debut season.

"Gibbs coming in tightened the whole deal up," said Michael Waltrip, who found a burst of power to put his Camry on the front row for Sunday's Daytona 500. "I mean, they just won races and just ran for a championship last season."

Toyota has nine cars in the 500, two more than Ford, and three cars starting among the top six.

"We're doing a bunch of fun things that make me optimistic about 2008," Waltrip said. "A year ago, I told you how cool it was going to be and I meant it, but I was wrong. Now I see how much different we are and I can tell you how cool it will be and it's based on fact."

And that fact is, Toyota powered teams, now lead by the Gibbs trio of Stewart, Hamlin and Kyle Busch, are considered part of the favroties group for the 500.

But not everyone thinks it's a done deal that a Toyota will roll into victory lane on Sunday.

"Given the quality of the teams running Camrys and drivers running Camrys, relative to everybody else how we're running, we can win but I don't know if we will," said Lee White, Toyota's NASCAR racing head. "We'll find out about 6 o'clock Sunday night."

Needless to say there will be thousands of others waiting to find out as well.

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