Toyota drivers are searching for a little more speed

Fast, but not fast enough.

That was the consistent refrain from Toyota drivers after Friday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying session at Kansas Speedway.

Led by Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing drivers claimed the sixth through ninth spots on the grid for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at the 1.5-mile track.

The No. 78 Camry of reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. was too loose in the first two rounds and too tight in the final round after an adjustment went too far. He qualified 12th.

On a positive note, all five of the Cup series’ top Toyotas made the top 12. On the other hand, they all qualified behind the five Fords that led the field. That defined the mission of the Camry drivers in Saturday’s two practice sessions: find more speed.

“I think our Craftsman Toyota had pretty good speed, but just not quite enough to get the pole,” Jones said. “We’ll keep working on it, but not a bad effort. We’ll start up here in the top six and go from there.”

Seventh-place qualifier Kyle Busch, second in the series standings and likely a shoo-in to the Round of 8 in the Playoffs, hopes to make his task easier at Kansas than it felt during opening practice.

“Feels like I have to push too hard to make lap time to what I need lap time to be,” Busch said. “We’re struggling for free speed right now – you have to earn it. You just have to figure out what your car is doing, figure out the balance and try to get as much speed as you can.

“With the temperatures being cool, it’s just so fast – just really, really, really fast. You’ve got to be all but perfect in order to have a fast car.”

Denny Hamlin, who will start ninth behind teammate Daniel Suarez, echoed that sentiment.

“Just a little bit slower than what we had hoped for,” said Hamlin, who is looking for his first victory of the year after scoring at least one win in each of his previous 12 seasons. “Organizationally, we’re all kind of right there bunched together, and that’s what we had for speed.

“Just have to make it a little bit better in race trim.”

Busch and Jones accomplished that objective in Saturday’s first practice. Jones was second to Aric Almirola on the speed chart. Busch was fifth fastest but paced the field in consecutive 10-lap average.

SHORT STROKES

Jamie McMurray will join Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson at the back of the field for the start of Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400. McMurray blew his engine 19 minutes into Saturday’s early practice. With the change in power plants, McMurray must drop to the rear to start the race. Larson, hoping to keep his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title hopes alive with a victory, went to a backup car after a crash in practice on Friday and consequently will start from the back…

Kurt Busch, last week’s Talladega pole winner, was back on top of the speed chart in Saturday’s final practice. Busch toured 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway in 28.997 seconds (186.226 mph) to edge Erik Jones (186.104 mph) for the fastest lap in Happy Hour. Aric Almirola, who paced Saturday’s first practice at 186.683 mph in cooler temperatures, was third in the final session, followed by Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Ryan Blaney. Alex Bowman, who needs a victory on Sunday to advance to the Round of 8 in the Playoffs, was ninth fastest, with 184.919 mph as his best lap.

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