The Frontstretch: Bowles - Eye : For Toyota, It Can't Get Much Worse...And It Shows by Thomas Bowles -- Sunday March 18, 2007

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Bowles - Eye : For Toyota, It Can't Get Much Worse...And It Shows

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Sunday March 18, 2007


When Toyota made its debut in Nextel Cup, everyone knew the road to glory would be long and difficult. Bumps were not feared; they were expected as the sport’s first foreign manufacturer earned its stripes on racing's toughest level of competition. But with the car dealer celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, joining the NASCAR's upper echelon still figured to be a crowning achievement by the time the season was all said and done.

Two months in, Toyota's still looking for that crown.

With four races already in the books, NASCAR's newest manufacturer has done everything it can to turn its Nextel Cup debut into its own personal nightmare. The first problems they encountered weren't necessarily their fault; still, after a week of wiping egg off their face in the wake of the Michael Waltrip cheating scandal, you’d think there was nowhere to go but up for the Camry bunch. Instead, the road the Toyota's been sliding down has simply gotten rockier.

Consider the individual subplots surrounding some of their seven teams on the circuit, developing more twists and turns then your local daytime drama:

  • There's Bill Davis' second team with Jeremy Mayfield, in clear desperation mode after failing to qualify for each of its four attempts this season. Derick Finley was fired as crew chief after only race two, and even putting longtime BDR guru Tommy Baldwin in his place hasn't turned things around. Always temperamental, one can only imagine the Mayfield firestorm behind the scenes at BDR as he’s forced to spend each Sunday watching from his couch. Certainly, not the debut new NASCAR sponsor 360 OTC was expecting; the question with them is quickly becoming how long they put up with DNQs before those logos get pulled off the car.
  • There's the sad story of Dale Jarrett, who at 50 years old put the final two years of his career in the hands of a $20 million dollar deal and a new car, leaving Robert Yates Racing after a championship and two Daytona 500 wins together. In February, that team he left won the pole for the 500 while Jarrett started shotgun on the field, in need of a champion's provisional; he's utilized that provisional every time this season, starting no better than 43rd while running like he's driving the UPS truck during the race…for real. Crew chief Matt Borland is likely looking for any way possible to sneak back into the Penske Racing Shops, while Jarrett's career seems destined to end on the chapter of Veterans Who Stayed Too Long.
  • Of course, when all else fails there's the continuing saga of Waltrip. Failing to qualify for every race since Daytona, the No. 55 team has faced increased scrutiny and a mountain of criticism in the aftermath of the cheating scandal. David Hyder's continuing employment with the team and his silence surrounding what went wrong only keeps the problem in central focus, and Waltrip seems busier with his responsibilities elsewhere than the one that should be number one on the priority list…running his own team. When you're four races into the season and find yourself with negative points, something is very, very wrong.

That's just touching the surface of a year that's seen all seven of Toyota's programs fail to finish higher than 10th in any Cup race. Only one team (Jarrett) finds itself in position to lock up a spot in the Top 35 in owner points after Bristol; the rest will likely be forced to qualify on speed every Friday for the foreseeable future, and most will continually fail to reach that bar.

What seems to be the problem? Certainly, equipment and personnel come to mind, but something as simple as building momentum may be the biggest issue. Simply put, nobody on any of these teams has been able to put together two consistent quality finishes. When Brian Vickers scored the Camry's first ever Top 10 at California, he followed that up the next week by failing to qualify at Las Vegas. When Waltrip's team put through an amazing effort to make the field at Daytona, they followed that up by missing the next three events. When Dave Blaney has put together qualifying runs showing future potential, he's followed them up mechanical failures and more DNFs - 3 - than any driver on the circuit.

Lack of momentum, of course, translates into lack of confidence, a clear pattern when you talk to any of the drivers involved with this struggle.

“I don't know really what is right or wrong,” said Dave Blaney after finishing 27th, his fourth consecutive finish outside the Top 25. “I'm sure we'll take a look at everything and try to figure it out.”

“It just seems like for every one step forward, we take two steps back," said David Reutimann after crashing out of his run. "We changed everything under the sun before the race, to have (the car) anywhere near remotely drivable was an accomplishment (in itself).”

“With the way the setups are nowadays, with coil-binding springs and things like that, all you have to be is a little bit off and you're not even close.”

Sadly, close isn't the word to describe Toyota's current situation. As far as making their mark in NASCAR's top level, they're not even remotely in the ballpark. And unless there's a miracle turnaround in how they've developed the Car of Tomorrow, this season seems destined to become one of the worst for a manufacturer in recent history.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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03/19/2007 05:50 AM

Yes the cars are indeed struggling to perform well,but I have a conspiracy theory.
Back when Toyota ( the only car made in the US)said it was coming to NASCAR a particular owner said its at war .Then on the big day a fuel additive was found in Waltrips Fuel,but no one knows how it got there.maybe a spy,then the # 16 crashes the 00 car .then this Sunday the 16 crashes 2Toyotas at the same time.
Oh yes the 16 is owened
by the one who is at war with Toyota.That doen’t explain why they all run like a dumptruck,unless all the teams have spys.
toyota needs to fire the
whole lot .
,and start over doing background check on everyone.This is just a thought with no evidence to prove anything .intended for entertainment

03/19/2007 07:29 AM

I have always liked Michael Waltrip, but it only takes a few minutes of watching or listening to him to realize that he has the attention of pea.

Jeremy Mayfield is the only driver I can remember, in my 45 years of being a NASCAR fan, that has lost 3 rides mid season and in each case the car he left had immediate success with his replacement.

03/19/2007 08:40 AM

Who cares about Toyota. I’m sick of all this Toyota propaganda. Enough is enough. You can’t turn on a TV or radio anytime that you aren’t bombarded with this Toyota crap. If the Asian car manufacturers had to sell their vehicles at the same prices as the domestics, they wouldn’t be selling in the volumns that they are. People buy price and that is the way it is. And no, I’m not some union thug. Far from it.

03/19/2007 01:36 PM

Looking at the Atlanta race, ALL of the Toyotas were fast enough to qualify for the 43 car field. The problem with the field is that it has 35 slots already allocated to “club members” and that allows only 8 remaining spots for 22 or so competing teams.
NASCAAR is running itself like the Augusta National golf course and excluding participation for various reasons.
Get rid of the 35 team free ride and run the fastest 43 cars.
If that can’t be done, open the field up to 50 cars on 1-1/2 mile and larger tracks.

03/19/2007 01:41 PM

notice you did not mention the seventh Toyota driver who has not make a single race this year(or last year)

03/19/2007 04:15 PM

Toyota’s problem is that a first class company aligned itself with Third class teams. How many wins does MWR have? Answer 0. MW has a couple but please…how many rides has HE lost?

BDR? A couple, biggest being Ward Burton’s Daytona, but again, please. This outfit had a head start developing Toyota parts and are still nowhere.

What they need is to do what the old competing hockey and football leagues did – recruit major talent in the effort to make an impact.

Waltrip, Davis et al are all nice guys, but at best third tier teams. Towota needs to get DEI or RCR or even RYR to jump ship. Then, and only then, will Toyota end up a player.

Dave Blaney? Please…

03/19/2007 06:07 PM

It appears that Toyota put most of its millions into Mikey’s team. He had no experience managing a major team, but, like his brother, he talks a big game. At least Darrell with all his bluster can say he has accomplished something. All his “little” brother has ever done is talk big and move from team to team. I couldn’t understand Toytota’s thinking when they picked Mikey as their poster boy, and I still don’t understand it. Nevertheless, don’t count them out yet. They have the money and the willingness to spend it. NASCAR loves money and it won’t be long before they begin to slip Toytota the breaks, whether it be larger restrictor plates, or debris cautions, or their ever frequent mis-interpretation of the “rules.”

03/20/2007 12:55 PM

Everything that I have read on this article and feedback is the whining of a video game mentality, much like that of the Big Boss Brian.
I don’t recall any team ever being a consistent winner in any sport, with the exception of the Cleveland Browns in 1950, and they were a team that had existed in another league. The Toyota teams come in with NO data from previous cars. they do not sport the nameplate of the official car of NA$CAR,(Chevrolet) so they are starting from scratch. If you can remember when they came into the truck series, they didn’t win right away, but after gaining some experience they did some arse whoopin.

03/21/2007 09:56 AM

I think some of you need to look deeper into all of the Toyota situations. One, it is the first year in Cup. Two, existing teams added another car to the mix this year. Three, there have been good runs in just the start of a long season for these guys. Dave Blaney had a top five run going at California. Engine problems put him in the garage. At least they were smart enough to pack it up,unlike other drivers who decided to going back out without thinking about the safety of others. Dave’s run at Vegas had top ten potential written all over it but due to the ignorance of Clint “Boy“er racing lap 16 like it was the last lap Blaney ended up in the wall,which could have been Clint instead if Dave was a man with no moral value. I say give it time, and Toyota is going to have most of you naysayers eating your own words.


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

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