Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What's the secret for Toyota's success?

In only their second year in the elite division of Nascar racing, Toyota seems to be unstoppable. After a very dismal rookie year, the sport's first Japanese based manufacturer has literally taken the Sprint Cup series by storm.

9 wins so far in 2008, as opposed to 0 wins in 2007 is certainly a way to prove that you've gotten your program over the hump. The biggest noticeable change has been Joe Gibbs Racing's entry into the Toyota program. In the winter of 2007, and even before that, chief engine guru Mark Cronquist apparently performed some magic on the power plants that have powered Joe Gibbs racing to 9 cup wins thus far this season. Wizardry might be a more accurate term.

One has to wonder, however, why the other Toyota teams have not seemed to benefit as much from Cronquist's coup. Team Red Bull, with Brian Vickers has come close. Denny Hamlin, who drives for JGR in the 11 car has won one time. Tony Stewart, who used to be the franchise driver for JGR, has not won at all. Newcomer Kyle Busch has won 8 times, and is the championship points leader.

Michael Waltrip Racing basically spearheaded the Toyota program in it's entry into Cup racing. Michael and his teammates have done better this year than they did in 2007, but have never been a threat to win a race this year. Joe Gibbs Racing certainly has more history with wins and championships than MWR does, but does that mean that Toyota has been giving JGR more than other teams? One wonders. No one who has ever won a championship at JGR has even won a race yet with Toyota in Cup. As a matter of fact, Tony Stewart returns to Chevrolet next year with his own team, under the banner of Stewart-Haas Racing. One wonders if Tony is leaving just because he craved ownership or Chevrolet so much, that he would abandon Nascar's most successful manufacturer?

I certainly don't have the answers to any of these questions. What I do know is that Nascar has long had a problem with one manufacturer dominating all the others. Nascar has taken steps in the Nationwide series, by mandating that the Toyota teams use a spacer, much like a restrictor plate between the carburetor and the intake manifold on the racing engines. Nascar has taken no such steps thus far in the Cup series.

Back in the old days, which weren't so long ago, Nascar would notice one particular manufacturer winning more races than the others were. Mostly, we're just talking about Ford, Chevrolet, and Pontiac here. When Dodge re-entered the sport a few years ago, Nascar tried to make sure that Dodge got some breaks too. Pontiac left, and now Toyota's here, but so far this year, I'm seeing very little effort on the part of Nascar to regulate parity between the manufacturers. Supposedly the new car, or what was previously known as the Car Of Tomorrow was supposed to accomplish that goal.

I have read various claims that Toyota engines make anywhere from 15 to 40 more horsepower than any of the other engines. I don't know that to be true, but I suspect that the Toyota engines are definitely making more horsepower than they were last year. That's totally understandable with the entry of Joe Gibbs Racing and Mark Cronquist into the equation. But I must ask the question: Does Toyota indeed have an advantage? And given the long, colorful history of Nascar, is that what Nascar wants? If they do, then why?

Is having one particular manufacturer being dominant what Nascar wants in 2008 and beyond?

Kyle Busch won 4 races with arguably the most successful race team in the last decade and a half, Hendrick Motorsports. Kyle was fired last year to make room for Dale Earnhardt Jr, the most popular driver in the sport for the last several years. Kyle found a new home with Gibbs and Toyota, and so far has made the most of it. He leads in points and wins, and isn't very humble about it, nor should he be required to be. The "in your face" tactics toward both Hendrick and Earnhardt probably are very satisying to Kyle, and I'm glad he's found success.

Humility has a way of finding cocky drivers though. Kyle Busch, enjoy it while you can.

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