The dream, or nightmare depending on your perspective, of Toyota in NASCAR took a large step forward on Monday. During the Car of Tomorrow test that took place at Michigan International Speedway this week, a Toyota Camry took laps around the two mile racetrack. Michael Waltrip Racing ran a Camry through its paces as part of the testing process, as well as Red Bull Racing and Bill Davis Racing. Toyota also submitted an engine to NASCAR in the first step towards receiving approval for their power plant for 2007.
Whether you like the idea or not, Toyota is going to compete in the Cup level of NASCAR in 2007. The automotive behemoth has already secured three teams to field their cars next year. The driver line-up is already well on its way to defined with Michael Waltrip, Dale Jarrett, Dave Blaney and Jeremy Mayfield (official announcement coming Friday) all signed to contracts to run the Camry for the next few years. Once the engine is approved, the teams will have a complete package to assemble and prepare for next February.
It may be a positive or it may be a negative, but Toyota is going to ramp up the level of competition in NASCAR. The automaker has a very large wallet and they intend to use it to excel at the top level of the sport. The Toyota teams are already courting many of the top crew members in the garage area in an attempt to have top of the line crews and teams fielding their cars. There is no doubt that Toyota intends to succeed and succeed early in their foray into Cup.
This entry into the sport is going to be different from Dodge's return to the sport a few years ago. Toyota has been competing in the Truck series since 2004. They already have a power plant that has been used in that series for three years. When Dodge came in, it was a completely new engine to go with a completely new car. The entire package was a change from what teams had been working with and there were many bugs to be worked out. Already having a proven engine from the Truck series is one less hurdle for the Cup teams to have to overcome. Toyota also has an enormous engineering staff that will be fully utilized to try and maximize their team's efforts. They have obviously learned from the Dodge teams’ cooperation when that manufacturer came back into the series in 2001.
With Michael Waltrip's involvement with Bill Davis Racing this year, communication lines have already been developed that will only foster cooperation among the Toyota teams. While Toyota has thus far failed to secure a true superstar for their driving line up, it is most likely just a matter of time before a big name jumps over to the Toyota side. If Toyota can come out of the box competitively in 2007, and possibly even win a race, it will be a matter of when and not if one of the top level drivers decides to make the switch to the Toyota emblem.
Also don't forget that Ty Norris is at the helm of Michael Waltrip racing. Norris was a very key cog in the DEI machine as it rose to become a competitive organization in Cup. It was no coincidence that DEI had their struggles last year after Norris was released from the organization. Norris's leadership skills are impressive, and he will certainly be integral in the success of the Toyota teams, and Michael Waltrip Racing in particular, next year.
If it excites you to think about it, or eats away at your soul, there is no question Toyota is here for the foreseeable future. It isn't the first time a foreign car maker has competed in the Cup series. Jaguar won a race in the 50s and Citroen, Renault and even Goliath have competed in the series as recently as 1958. Sure NASCAR is an American automotive sport, but it has never been exclusively American. There just hasn't been any interest from foreign car makers for nearly 50 years. There is no doubt, if this foray turns out to be a success, there very well could be interest from other foreign based manufacturers in the future.
The bottom line is that Toyota sells the most popular car in America. A majority of the Toyotas sold in this country are assembled in this country. It is probably a more American company that Daimler-Chrysler. So whether you like it or hate it, you'll have to accept it. Toyota is going to be in Cup next yearâ€¦believe it.
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