Toyota has come out of the box like a car with three wheels this season. The highest standing Toyota is Dale Jarrett in 37th place in the points, which is primarily because he was able to use Past Champion's provisionals to make most of the first six races of the season. This is hardly the onslaught that most people were predicting when Toyota and their huge budget announced they were invading the sport. However, don't let these struggles mislead, these are new teams, and they are going to have problems just like any new team does entering the sport for the first time. People who know better are not gloating over the struggles of the new manufacturer, they are still fretting about what will happen once they get their cars running well and start competing with everyone else.
Jack Roush mentioned in an interview this week that he is not gloating over Toyota's struggles early this season. He feels, like any new team, there are going to be difficulties early on in getting a handle on the setups, getting the right chemistry among the members of the crews and working out the bugs in new equipment. His concern isn't 2007, it is the future, 2008 and beyond, when the teams begin to run better and more and more talented people in the sport are tempted to jump ship and chase the big money that Toyota is throwing around.
Some of the most talented people in the sport have balked at going over to Toyota this year because of the fact that they knew there would be struggles early on. However, once the Toyota teams begin to show some strength and start competing near the front of the pack, it is going to be harder and harder for the people who are the most successful in the sport to turn their back on the kind of money that Toyota is going to offer them. That is the thing that is going to make the people who run the teams for the other manufacturers nervous and ultimately is going to threaten the stability and financial future of the sport.
Toyota has a bigger budget than the other manufacturers do for their racing efforts, and that reality is not lost on the powers-that-be running the teams in NASCAR today. Jack Roush went out and found a financial partner in the folks who run the Boston Red Sox to help him going forward. Ray Evernham announced that he is also considering finding another financial partner so that he can continue on into the future with the uncertainty that is being brought on by the nearly unlimited capital that Toyota is looking to pour into NASCAR. The ramifications of these moves could be very far reaching and have enormous impacts going forward in the sport.
The question at this point is looking like, how long will it be before Toyota begins to run more competitively and is it going to be in time to lure some of the best talent in the garage over to their side in the off-season? As mentioned before, there are no Toyota teams in the top 35 in owner's points at this point in time. Once a team figures it all out, and starts getting solid Top 20 and Top 15 finishes, and the knowledge begins to circulate through the Toyota camp, more and more teams will begin to run better. At that point in time, when Toyota teams are ensured of making races and are starting to look like they can compete for wins, there are going to be some top notch crew chiefs, crew members, and shop personnel that are going to follow the cash and switch over to Toyota. Once that happens, there will be Toyota teams that will compete for the Championship, and there is a distinct possibility, with the resources that Toyota brings to the table, that it could happen before 2010.
As Toyota gets close to a Championship, it will be up to the other manufacturers to step up and compete, or the series will begin to look like the Truck series does at this point in time. Toyota is now the dominant manufacturer in the Trucks, the other manufacturers are not stepping up to be competitive, and the result is a series that is completely top heavy with Toyotas right now. While the Truck series offers the best competition in the three big NASCAR series, it isn't going to grow its fan base because there isn't a competition between the manufacturers and the potential winners on a given weekend are extremely limited.
So while Toyota is struggling to put cars into races at this point in time, do not think that these struggles are going to last. The amount of money that is being pumped into their teams and the technical resources that they have are certainly going to overcome these early struggles. Ultimately, there is a good possibility that the Toyota teams will be running up front and potentially dominating the entire series. So American manufacturer fans, don't get cocky, because the cream rises to the top, and in auto racing, the cream comes from money.
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