The Frontstretch: Like It Or Not ... Toyota's Here to Stay by Danny Peters -- Tuesday March 11, 2008

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Like It Or Not ... Toyota's Here to Stay

Danny Peters · Tuesday March 11, 2008


After what can most politely be termed as a “learning experience for Toyota” in year one, there was little doubt in the media, in the garage, or amongst the fans that 2008 would be a completely different story. After Joe Gibbs Racing was safely ensconced in the fold, along with the expertise of renowned engine builder Mark Cronquist, the only real question was “when” and not “if” they would win a Sprint Cup race. On Sunday, after 500 tough miles at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kyle “Rowdy” Busch achieved the milestone win for the Japanese manufacturer in his own inimitable fashion; Busch, being a man for whom the term “drive it like you stole it” was invented.

But Toyota was hardly stealing the winning trophy in their 40th start in the Cup series. The seeds of their milestone victory were sown over several years of hard work, a culmination of their early experiences in both the Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series. Following the automaker's 2004 introduction to NASCAR’s Trucks, it took just 13 races before Travis Kvapil took the checkers in his Tundra at Michigan. Just three short seasons later, the manufacturer had their first Truck champion in Todd Bodine, and they accounted for 12 race victories in total. After that, the going got tougher; it took ten more starts (22) for Toyota to win as they expanded to the Nationwide Series in 2007, with Jason Leffler wheeling the Camry to Victory Lane at O’Reilly Raceway Park. Reutimann added another in Memphis that October, and Smoke's two early season victories in 2008 make it four wins in 39 attempts for the Nationwide Toyotas. Given those incremental differences between series, it seems about right that we hit the number 40 before this manufacturer secured that all-important first Cup triumph.

Kyle Busch led 173 laps at Atlanta en route to the fifth win of his career — the first behind the wheel of a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

And if it was going to be anyone, why not Kyle Busch? Yes, he's rubbed a few competitors the wrong way, and sure, there are plenty of fans that hate the confident, cocksure kid from Vegas; but I doubt you'd find many dissenters with regard to his driving ability. The junior Busch has a number of other firsts under his belt already: youngest driver ever to win a Cup race (California, September 2005); first driver to win a COT Race (Bristol, March 2007); the youngest driver to win at Atlanta, beating out the then-Wonderboy Jeff Gordon by almost 7 months; and now, the first driver to win a points-paying Cup race with Toyota.

But before the traditionalists turn in their Dale Junior merchandise in disgust, tear down their number three flags, eBay their Bristol season tickets, and start watching soccer instead on a Sunday, remember that this is not the first time a foreign manufacturer has won in NASCAR. Yes, you have to go back more than 50 years; but, given the lack of participation from the 1960s through 2004, that drought is not all that surprising. However, in the sport’s early days a number of foreign car companies, including the likes of Aston Martin, Austin-Healey, Citroen, MG, Morgan, Porsche, Renault, and Volkswagen turned laps in NASCAR's elite division. It was the little known Al Keller, who tragically died in 1961 as a result of injuries sustained in a Champ Car crash at the Arizona State Fairgrounds track, who secured the first victory for one of these foreign manufacturers. Keller piloted his Jaguar to the win on the Linden, New Jersey Airport Runway track in the International 500 on June 13, 1954; it was a day on which the manufacturer had four cars in the Top 6, the peak of its brief but notable involvement in the sport.

On the heels of similar success for Toyota, some have suggested their participation in an “American” sport is a bad thing. But let's not forget that this is a company that has produced cars in this country for over 50 years; statistics show their total investment in the U.S. since their arrival is some 15 billion dollars. They employ almost 35,000 people within our borders (more than the likes of Cisco, Texas Instruments, or General Mills) and the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) estimates that Toyota is responsible for the creation of some 386,000 jobs. Then, there is the small matter of the estimated 28 billion they spend annually on parts and supplies from vendors in over 30 states. I'm not trying to be a corporate drone for Toyota — far from it, I promise — but to paint the Japanese automaker as this big bad evil empire not fit for NASCAR is neither accurate nor fair.

As a foreigner myself (I'm British) I have to say that I find the staunch anti-Toyota sentiment hard to understand at times, even within the site I work for. For example, Matt McLaughlin's column Toyota's Here… And There Goes The Neighborhood last week caused me to nearly write to my esteemed colleague to complain. Now, before you think I'm one of those moaners who only want my point of view to be heard, let me be clear. Yes, Matt's absolutely entitled to his opinion, especially in this country where free speech is such an important tenet of society; but it doesn't mean I have to like or agree with his notion that Toyota is essentially bad for the sport. The section that bothered me the most was this:

"Call me a xenophobe, but I cannot stand the idea of a foreign auto manufacturer winning a Cup title; and I know there's a lot of others like me out there, too, despite the fact that some of them may have a Camry or Tundra parked in their driveway."

So, Toyota is good enough to drive your kids to school, to pick up your groceries, or to go on a road trip to a race; but it's not good enough to watch — for fun — on a Sunday afternoon? How does that make any sense? To me, it doesn’t.

I understand and respect the argument that some longtime fans lost their jobs because of the influx of foreign manufacturers in the U.S. But doesn't this also say something about the domestic manufacturers and their inability to keep up with the global marketplace? Isn't the spirit of competition, hard work, striving to get ahead, and bold entrepreneurship exactly what America was built on? To me, one of the greatest things about this country is that anyone with the will, effort, and determination (and a little bit of luck) can succeed regardless of their race, color, or creed. Why shouldn't those same values be applied to the best racing series in the U.S., if not the world? Should a foreign manufacturer like Toyota want to make what amounts to a heavy investment in this sport, why shouldn't they — and why should NASCAR be exclusively American? It wasn't in the early days… so why should it be so now?

In the aftermath of Sunday’s success, there’s a new, final question that’s entered the fold for me as well.

Isn't it time now for the big three — Ford, Dodge and Chevy — to stand up and show Toyota they are not going to roll over and die?

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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©2000 - 2008 Danny Peters and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

03/11/2008 07:58 AM

NA$CAR itself is mostly responsible for TOYOTA entering into the world of motor-sports we call “CUP RACING”!

When NA$CAR reached out to the wine & cheese crowd to further promote their (NA$CARS) sport, probably to replace those core fans that were/are getting sick & tired of the way NA$CAR is being run these days,
the door opened for different manufacturers, i.e. the Toyota’s of the world, and such to enter the fray! A logical move by Toyota as that’s the crowd they sell cars to!

So, like it or not, and I personally like it, TOYOTA is in CUP RACING to stay, and the top prize is theirs to be had! Watch out Ford, Chevy, Dodge!

The new day is here!

NA$CAR hopes the new manufacturer will draw in more fans than those old core fans that have left the sport!

We will see!

03/11/2008 08:10 AM

And, Douglas, when they don’t draw the fans, and they won’t, then what? You winers and cheese eaters think you know whats best for all of us, don’t you? As for your view Mr. Peters, if it wasn’t for “all Americans” you would be German now not British.Toyota is crap, NASCRAP is 10 years from being done….just enjoy whats left!

03/11/2008 08:41 AM

johnboy60……Your Kidding Right…Right??? if not you COULD not be more wrong!!!!

03/11/2008 09:13 AM

Toyota? Ford? Chevy? Dodge? Do you all really buy into the fiction that these are different brands out there?? They are all the same. I suspect Nascar would mandate a spec motor if they then it becomes a decal set. How can you dvelop brand loyalty and competition with a spec series? Oh I guess people will be fooled for a while but eventually they will all figure it out and begin staying away in droves. Nascar’s only hope for the future is hoping people focus on the drivers and not the cars. They have done their best in the past to homogenize them but perhaps its dawned on them this year that since they have a spec car, might be best not to have a spec driver. We will see.

03/11/2008 09:36 AM

I dont know whats worse: Kyle Busch’s personality or the taste of that new Silver Snickers Charge bar.

03/11/2008 10:15 AM

aircrewman…I might be kidding…however, my remarks make about as much sense as Mr. Peters. Its all in the preception……..

03/11/2008 11:23 AM

Toyota; they sure figured out a way to make a faster headlight decal this year.

03/11/2008 11:31 AM

I’m waiting for BMW , Volvo , Mercedes , Nissan , Ferrari , Aston Martin , to join in . They all have V-8 engines that could be adapted to cup racing , and they already have cars that are the right size . Why the push to keep everybody out ? I say bring em on . Lets see a real race . Lets see if they can beat the American manufacturers . Hell , maybe KIA can come up with a contender .

03/11/2008 11:33 AM

The foreign car makers are taking advantage of several issues with the American Big 3:
1. They are new to the U.S. and have no retired employees.
2. The pay their workers SIGNIFICANTLY less than the Big 3 in pay AND benefits.
3. They are non-union.

The Big 3 stumbled in the quality arena and the foreign companies kicked their butt for a while but folks, U.S. quality is now as good as any. Just look at which auto maker has recalled the most vehicles in the past 2 years… Toyota! (except maybe for recent Ford issues). So you see, the Big 3’s biggest mistake they are paying for now is that they were TOO good to our parents and grandparents who worked there. The Big 3 do not compete with the foreign companies on an even playing field and shame on the U.S. government for allowing it to happen.

And let’s not forget where Toyota / Nissan profits eventually end up.

And as for NASCAR, the Big 3 built that sport before the big time sponsors stepped in. Than Toyota stuck a big check under Brian France’s nose and he did what he does best… he cashed the check. Brian France WILL be the downfall of NASCAR. Maybe his drunk driving escapades will catch up to him before he totally destroys a (once) great thing!

Rich Sykes
03/11/2008 03:53 PM

hey…wait till Honda adds more millions to NASCARS coffers…will they get a COT developed for them , too? Can you say USAC!!

03/11/2008 05:11 PM

If NA$CAR has any hope of keeping this sport from going down the tubes within 10 years, here’s three ideas.
1. Get rid of Brian France and John Darby. Might as well ad Mike Helton to that list.
2. Get rid of Toyota.
3. Darlington shouldn’t have 1 race, Darlington shouldn’t have 2, Darlington should have 3 races.
Since none of these will probably ever happen, looks like CA$HCAR, oops NA$CAR is screwed.

03/11/2008 07:01 PM

Another day and 2 more moronic postings from johnnyboy.

03/11/2008 09:40 PM

Say what y’all will, but Toyota will dominate to the point that no one else will be able to compete. They have the money. The big “3” do not. I don’t expect NASCAR to thrive much longer unless the “rice burner” set with the chain saw sounding mufflers and giant wings on their little Civics can support it.

03/11/2008 09:59 PM

The bottom line is that as Toyota becomes established in Nascar “The Big Three” manufacturers get pushed out of the sport with their 2nd tier teams. A couple of years from now the Woods Brothers, Yates Racing, Petty Enterprises, and Robby Gordon Motorsports will all be in danger of closing shop as they fall further behind the respective flagship teams of the major manufacturer’s. GM has the Big Three of DEI, Childress, and Hendricks. Toyota has the Big Two of Gibbs and MWR. Dodge has the Big Three of Penske, Ganassi, and Gillett-Evernham. Ford has the Big One of Roush-Fenway. Outside of those teams you basically have a bunch of one or two car teams floating around that are not very competitive every week. The top 35 then becomes a life line for those teams. Also expect Toyota to get another major team to flip to them in the near future.

03/14/2008 07:30 PM

as long as your adding races get one back at “The Rock”

03/17/2008 06:01 AM

What a ridiculous comment JohnBoy – that’s like me saying “if it wasn’t for us Brits, you’d be speaking Sioux”….Get a grip !

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