NASCAR: The implications of Legacy Motor Club’s Toyota move

Jimmie Johnson, Richard Petty, Erik Jones, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, Richard Petty, Erik Jones, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

There is no hiding from the fact that the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season has been a massive disappointment for Legacy Motor Club so far.

Through the first 11 races of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, Legacy Motor Club teammates Erik Jones and rookie Noah Gragson have only managed to score two top 10 finishes. Both of those, an eighth place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway and a sixth place finish at Talladega Superspeedway, were recorded by Jones.

It was a little troubling watching Monday’s race at Dover Motor Speedway, seeing Jones running in the top 15 at the halfway mark and finishing in 16th place — and considering that a success.

That result marked a step forward for sure, but it’s a far cry from the Petty GMS Motorsports team that saw Jones finish in the top 16 in the regular season point standings and win the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway last year, when he scored 13 total top 10 finishes.

It was just a day after Monday’s Wurth 400 when Legacy Motor Club co-owner and seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson announced that the team would be parting ways with longtime manufacturer Chevrolet and switching to Toyota after 2023.

For Johnson, the driver who has effectively been the poster boy for Chevrolet for over 20 years, announcing this move was quite a strong statement.

Speaking to Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass, he stated the following.

"“There are deep roots there (with Chevrolet), roots that will never change, and pride of accomplishment. I’m so proud of the history books, and all that we wrote together, but time marches on.”"

There had been rumors of this NASCAR team moving to Toyota long before Jimmie Johnson arrived as a co-owner, dating as far back as 2020.

One report suggested that Bubba Wallace, who drove the No. 43 Chevrolet for Richard Petty Motorsports from 2018 to 2020, had been offered an ownership stake in the team, and that part of the deal included moving to Toyota for 2021.

With Legacy Motor Club’s Toyota deal now official, Johnson explained the reasoning for the switch.

"“When I left the sport (in 2020), there still was some testing. There were other elements where teams could develop and work through stuff on their own.“With the way it is positioned now, it really is a function of the OEMs collecting the information, and that gets shared through the teams. Our deep alignment in 2024 and beyond with Toyota puts us in a very strong position to control our own destiny.”"

That is the important part of the equation — the OEMs collecting and distributing the Next Gen car’s information to their teams, rather than teams conducting their own testing and coming to their own conclusions like we have seen in previous years.

Toyota has been a strong and oftentimes dominant competitor in the Cup Series for a while now. They have also been doing it with only two teams, and just five or six cars.

Compare that to Chevrolet, where you have Hendrick Motorsports, Trackhouse Racing Team, Richard Childress Racing, Kaulig Racing, JTG Daugherty Racing, and arguably even Spire Motorsports all ahead of Legacy Motor Club in the pecking order this year.

As the sixth or seventh most desired team, and sixth or seventh least prioritized organization under the manufacturer’s wing, the current business just didn’t make sense for a team with such high expectations.

Joining Toyota as only their third full-time operation in 2024 gives Legacy Motor Club a fresh start, as well as higher levels of access to new information that they otherwise wouldn’t be getting.

Given the fact that both Jones and Gragson competed for Toyota at a high level in the past, that is also a huge bonus for both the team and for Toyota to build upon what are already successful relationships.

With the news so fresh, it is unknown if Legacy Motor Club will enter an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, as 23XI Racing have. Even if that is not the case, being the third team for Toyota is still three steps better than being the sixth team for Chevrolet — and that is only the worst-case scenario.

On a more minor scale, what does this move mean for Jimmie Johnson as a driver?

He can obviously compete in as many Cup Series races as he desires in 2024, as he is a co-owner and the one who signed the deal, after all.

But should he want to race for Garage 56 at Le Mans next year — if NASCAR chooses to run the 24-hour event again, that is — it would be difficult for him to do so, given the fact that the car is a Chevrolet.

That is because, according to NBC’s Nate Ryan, Toyota Racing Development (TRD) do not allow their drivers to compete for other manufacturers in series where Toyota is a competitor.

Luckily for Johnson, that policy will not impact his chances of running the 2024 Indy 500 with Chip Ganassi Racing’s IndyCar team or racing the DPi Ally Cadillac in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, as Toyota does not compete in those series or its select classes.

Regardless of whether or not moving to Toyota is the right move for Legacy Motor Club, something had to change.

All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark. Next

With this bombshell announcement just 11 races into his tenure as a co-owner of the team, Johnson is showing that he is not afraid of pulling the trigger and sacrificing strong ties to do what he believes is best. Only time will tell if his first big move is the right one.