Toyota Racing has had quite a bit of attention on their team lately, and not for the right reasons. While the team has had five wins in 14 races this year, they might have more if not for one teensy tiny problem that has reared its ugly head in recent years: engines.
Yeah, those pesky engines … must they play such an integral part of this sport? I mean, why do those things have to be the focus?
Six engine failures in 13 races so far in 2013 is not the best track record, even though the manufacturer is enjoying its best start to the year since 2007, their first year in the Sprint Cup Series. High profile engine failures that have shut down race winning performances were what really has drawn attention to this issue, especially considering Toyota Racing Development took responsibility for Kyle Busch not making the Chase last season.
TRD further generated headlines when it was announced that President Lee White would be retiring from the organization at the end of the year to deal with some family health issues. David Wilson, who will be taking over White’s role, helped to announce this week that Toyota would be running more conservative engines as a result of the failures, with more of a focus on durability and longevity rather than horsepower.
The timing was great with the next two racetracks being some of the easiest on engines of any other track on the schedule.
What’s that? You mean Pocono and Michigan aren’t easy on engines? That they’re known for their toughness on engines and that it’s an area of focus every time the series races at either of those venues?
So, yeah, then there was Pocono and all that. On Sunday, TRD executives were gripping the arms of their chairs wondering how today would go. As Jimmie Johnson tore away from the field and set the pace for the entire event, Toyota drivers did, well …. Meh.
Just let Denny Hamlin tell you.
“It was a tough day,” said Hamlin. “I think all of us had to play defense on the straightaway which is really tough, but I made the best of it. It’s about where I thought we would end up, but we need wins and we’re going to have to be aggressive and do everything we can to do that.”
Playing defense on the straightaway … in Pocono. Gee, that sounds fun on a straightaway the size of Pocono where they could probably run drag races if they really wanted to. What’s next? Needing a push to pass on the frontstretch in Indianapolis?
Hamlin isn’t a “has been” either. He has four wins and an average finish of 10.5 at the tricky triangle, needing no introduction to the Pocono landscape. For him to say that he has to play defense on the straights in Pocono, when in reality the corners on the track are known to be the treacherous areas, does not bode well for the team.
Then again, there was this gem from Mark Martin:
“Our engine ran good. We were fine with the engine. We just couldn’t get through the corners as good as we needed to get up there and fight for it.”
Wait. That’s … that’s like the complete opposite of Hamlin. Like not even close.
Oh, yeah. That’s Mark “The Eternal Optimist” Martin. He’s going to be in a wheelchair and hunched over at 95 and be like “Oh yeah this nursing home food is good, thanks to Boston Market for catering to such an awesome dinner.” He might even still be tweeting about it.
Even then, Martin is no slouch when it comes to racing. He’s considered the best driver never to win a championship and is one of the most respected drivers in the garage area. Shouldn’t we listen to what he says?
But wait … there’s more:
“It was fine,” said Matt Kenseth. “The 18 (Kyle Busch) and 11 (Denny Hamlin), I think, finished up okay and we were fine before we had the problem. We were okay. Jimmie (Johnson) had us covered, but there was a couple runs where we were pretty respectable. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I think we had the tools if we had the car just right to win until whatever happened to it.”
Yeah so that makes two. There were comments from both Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth saying they had trouble getting going either on the straightaway or in other portions of the race, but they seemed to attribute that to handling rather than the engine itself.
None of the other Toyota drivers gave comments, but the best part of this whole thing is that no news is good news. There were no engine failures from any of the big name teams and aside from Hamlin didn’t seem to have any major problems. They were nowhere near racing winning material of course, but no one other than Johnson really was.
While there is still work to be done within the organization, perhaps they discovered what they needed to. After all, you can’t expect every time to go completely problem-free at a track like Pocono and yet they all made it through to the end. If they can diagnose their issues while still maintaining the power that they displayed earlier this year, by the time the series heads back to Pocono, they may very well be the team back on top.
In other words, Pocono was a step in the right direction but a total transformation is going to take some time.
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