FONTANA, Calif. Its clear with better performance comes higher expectations.
Because of that, the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season raised the bar for Toyota and Michael Waltrip Racing.
Both are finding out early this season that with the successes enjoyed in NASCARs Sprint Cup Series in 2012 come a lot of closer scrutiny, particularly when the perception is you havent picked up where you left off.
For instance, Fridays qualifying prowess by Toyota teams raise the possibility the manufacturers victory drought at Auto Club Speedway will come to an end this weekend.
Denny Hamlin, who drives the No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, won the pole for Sundays Auto Club 400 with an average lap speed of 187.451 mph.
His fellow Toyota drivers wont be far behind.
Hamlins JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth start fourth and fifth, respectively, while MWRs Martin Truex Jr. starts seventh, Mark Martin ninth and Bowyer 13th.
Bowyer had been fastest in Fridays practice session.
It was fast. I told my crew I could pretty much guarantee the pole had we qualified (in the order) anywhere 20th or later, Hamlin said. I knew our car was just ridiculous fast in qualifying trim.
I love this race track. A lot of the reason is because its bumpy and its worn out, and we got tire fall off like three seconds between the beginning of a run and the end of a run. That always makes for good racing.
Expectations aside, Bowyer is actually in a better position than he was at this point one season ago.
He ended 2012 second in the series standings and with three victories. Yet Bowyer was eighth in points after that seasons first four races.
He enters Sundays Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway fourth in points but has led just a single lap.
Thats the one thing that were behind on is leading laps and a win, but if you really look at where we were at last year this time, its just a different set of circumstances, said Bowyer. I think were running exactly the way we did last year.
Its just the expectations of what happened to MWR at the end of the year competing for a championship and being right there in the running catapults people into thinking us included that we need to be at least second in the points and contending for wins.
Its not that MWR teams have not been fast they have. Its just that they have not been in the hunt for wins at the end of races, in part hampered by some early-season engine issues.
Since Bowyer closed last season knocking on the door for the No. 1 spot in the Cup series, media and fans are looking there for him to start the new year.
Its just thats what you expect after the way that the season ended last year, so I just think expectations are a little bit different, Bowyer said.
They should be.
Some of those could be met Sunday with a win.
Our speeds are fast with our Toyotas on these big race tracks. A Toyota (Kenseth) won at the only mile-and-a-half weve had (on the schedule) so far, Bowyer said. That speed will carry over, I believe on this race track.
Well be just fine.