The Frontstretch: Toyota: Banking On Some Old Fashioned American Ingenuity ... From Joe Gibbs by Tommy Thompson -- Tuesday September 4, 2007

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Toyota: Banking On Some Old Fashioned American Ingenuity ... From Joe Gibbs

Thompson in Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Tuesday September 4, 2007


Today's expected announcement that Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) will end a 15-year relationship with General Motors (Chevrolet and Pontiac) in favor of forging a new alliance with the behemoth Japanese auto manufacturer Toyota indicates just how far from the "moonshine" days of NASCAR's infancy its race teams have come. All indications are, that if anyone was knocking on doors, it was Toyota selling themselves to the highly successful JGR organization. In other words…Toyota needed Gibbs more than Gibbs needed Toyota.

Though generally considered second to Hendrick Motorsports in status within the GM hierarchy of race teams, Gibbs is a coveted member of the manufacturer’s racing effort that has resulted in capturing five of the last six Manufacturer Championships, and the organization is seemingly on track to contend for bragging rights again for the 2007 race season. Conversely, Toyota, in their inaugural year in Cup racing, is a distant fourth in the standings among auto manufacturers, and though showing some improvement in Nextel Cup performance, is woefully lagging in its development to its competitors…most notably GM.

As a "buy American" advocate, and one that would take the bus rather than purchase a "foreign" automobile, even I no longer can argue the appropriateness of NASCAR allowing overseas auto builders to compete against the traditional American makes. Try as I might, I cannot stave off the economic globalization that has seen the once proud and prosperous American auto manufacturers of General Motors and Ford take a steady and sad fall, now operating in the red and fighting for their financial survival. Nor can I even determine at this point whether the Dodge/Chrysler brand is again an American brand or not. Judging from the huge international list of foreign investors that make up the investment firm (Cerberus) that now owns the company… your guess is as good as mine. One can hardly blame NASCAR, Bill Davis Racing, Michael Waltrip, or, apparently, Joe Gibbs Racing for throwing in with a car builder who possesses a strong balance sheet and with it the likelihood of being in existence in another decade. But that the world’s #1 seller of vehicles has found the going difficult in competing against the NASCAR talent, generally considered among the "sophisticated" motor sports enthusiasts worldwide as a low-tech version to some of the international racing series, is at least a small victory for good old American ingenuity.

Through a concerted effort on the part of the Japanese company to control their "end" race product, Toyota has, in every series it has competed in, kept its technology and development in-house. This is a business formula that has served them well during their years of participation in numerous auto-racing endeavors, including in the United States; CART, IMSA, various off-road racing series, and the former Goody's Dash Series. Toyota Research and Development (TRD) is the division of the manufacturer charged with assuring that Toyota gains dominance on the track…and historically they have been up to the task. Even within the NASCAR ranks they have become the dominate manufacturer in the Craftsman Truck Series the last two years after somewhat of an inauspicious beginning. But their courting of Joe Gibbs Racing is widely believed to be a cry for help for some technological help that they recognize they need to be successful in the series.

That Toyota is going to have a stellar line-up of drivers in two-time Champion Tony Stewart, 2006 Rookie of the Year Denny Hamlin, and the very promising Kyle Busch campaigning Camrys next season is just the frosting on the JGR cake. Perhaps of equal and greater interest to Toyota is Mark Cronquist, JGR’s engine builder. Cronquist, a protege of the late Hendrick Motorsports master engine guru Randy Dorton, has the knowlege and abilities that Toyota desperately needs to bring their engine package up to a competitive level with its competitors-in short order.

Cronquist has been instrumental in the development of Chevrolet's new powerplant, dubbed the RO7, primarily in cooperation with the engine department heads at Childress, DEI and Hendrick. And that Gibbs Racing, with Cronquist in tow, is taking Chevrolet's latest technology to Toyota is not sitting well with the other top GM teams. It is now rumored that the other main GM Cup organizations are conflicted as to whether JGR should be allowed to participate in their monthly meetings. Said Richie Gilmore, who heads up the competition side of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and is a highly respected engine builder in his own right, “We just developed a new engine, and all that technology is gone to another competitor."

Kyle Busch, signed to drive for Gibbs next season inadvertently announced the manufacturer switch after being baited by reporters (he'll know better next time!) discussed the engine dilemma that Toyota finds themselves in and what Cronquist will be able to provide for Toyota. “I’ve met with him a few times in our meetings and our discussions,” Busch said. “He’s a really cool guy. Actually, when we were talking about Toyota, they brought him in because I had a bunch of questions about the motor.

“They’ve got a lot of questions in that area…They’ve got the … top-end power but don’t have bottom-end. They’ve had not too many reliability issues, but a couple still… Mark [said] to me they feel like their package that they’ve had in the Chevrolets, especially with the new R07, that they can translate that into the Toyota and hopefully have a pretty good piece come January.”

Not to say that Joe Gibbs Racing will not benefit considerably for its defection from GM to Toyota. That the newest manufaturuer entrant into Nextel Cup Racing came with very deep pockets is not a secret to anyone. However, it is safe to bet that whatever the actual cost of the Gibbs/Toyota alliance to the manufacturer, it was deemed worth the premium they are paying to "fast track" their race effort to competitiveness. An effort, if kept within the confines of Toyota Research and Development would have taken years to come to fruition at its present pace.

I'm chalking this one up as a win for the "Good ‘ole Boys."

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M. B. Voelker
09/05/2007 06:13 AM

IMO, anyone who wants to “buy American” needs to buy from companies whose actual plants are located in the US rather than companies whose corporate offices may be in the US but whose plants are in Canada and Mexico.

Personally, I’ll just buy whatever best suits my needs and my budget and let honest competition determine who gets my money.

Brian France Sucks
09/05/2007 07:42 AM

And now for the starting lineup for the 2012 Daytona 500, brought to you by whoever ponied up the most bucks to the France family monopoly. On the pole driving the DuPont Mercedes, Jeff Gordon. On the outside pole the Pennzoil Subaru of Kevin Harvick. Starting in third is the 99 Nissan of Carl Edwards………. What a joke. You gotta love globalization. Will there even be any races in the South?

Travis Rassat
09/05/2007 07:45 AM

I’d like to point out two benefits of the Gibbs/Toyota relationship that I haven’t seen mentioned much lately:

1. JGR has 3 cars who are in the top 35 in owner’s points. If Hall of Fame Racing follows suit and switches to Toyota, Toyota will have at least 4 cars in the Top 35 in owners’ points at Daytona. Considering that at this point in time they don’t have any cars in the top 35, that’s going to be huge for Toyota getting the 2008 season started right. Otherwise, they’ll actually be worse off than they were at the beginning of 2007.

2. JGR will be Toyota’s top dog, as opposed to be the 3rd or 4th team for Chevrolet, behind Hendricks, RCR and possibly DEI. I’m sure this puts them in a position where they at least feel they have more clout with the manufacturer, which is especially handy for future negotiations with a company that is rumored to have very deep pockets, and wants to win races.

09/05/2007 08:13 AM

I am not sure Gibbs was #2 in the GM pecking order. This might have been part of the problem.

There are very few large “American” corporations. The big three have been behind japan and europe for over 25 years not just lately.

Isn’t America about COMPETITION? About competing against the best? It would have been very sad and the impending end to Nascar if they would not allow other manufacturers compete. It would be so ass backwards and a true throw back to guys like Junior Johnson. Shoul dwe allow people from other countries work in the nascar indusrty too if there is a demand? Or is that just for WHITE people.

09/05/2007 09:09 AM

I know everyone is down on Toyota, but JD Gibbs said months ago that they wanted to re-sign with Chevy. It’s seems to me that it is GM that dropped the ball. So JGR “defecting” can, at least in some part, be attributed to their own lack of loyalty to Joe Gibbs.

As for the R07 technology “going to another competitor”, Mark Cronquist worked hard on that engine and GM should have seen that as a bonus and fought to keep JGR.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Chevy and would like to see JGR stay, but would you stay with a company that really doesn’t seem to want you there?

John Potts
09/05/2007 11:43 AM

M.B. Voelker’s comment about “honest competition” determining who gets the money goes right to the heart of the American car makers’ problem. If they had made an attempt to compete with the Japanese years ago they might not be in the shape they are now.

09/05/2007 12:45 PM

I hope all you Toyota fans won’t mind too much when you have to pledge allegience to the Jap flag!!

Karen T.
09/05/2007 01:48 PM

Tony Stewart should be ashamed… I never thought he’d drive a “toyota” – a toy car…. Guess he better get his next championship this year because that’s the end for at least three years..!!!! All his comments about this being a redneck, southern sport, etc, etc.. and NOW….he’s driving a Toyota…..!!!!
End of being a Tony Stewart fan…

09/05/2007 04:22 PM

Karen, John, WWII was over a few years back. We won and took all the military toys from Japan. Then we rebuilt them to be a manufacturing force. That was all us. Get over it. We planned it that way. Now hop in your Canamexican Monte Carlo, drive down to LensCrafters and get some specs for the myopia.

Japan has made a better everything than we do for the past few decades and we’re finally starting to catch up. It’s competition. It’s what makes America great.

09/05/2007 04:26 PM

Jack Roush finally has a real reason now to “Declare War” on Toyota! His last declaration was against a much weaker and inferior group of Toyota Teams. We’ll see if his Roush-Fenway aquistion merger pays off next year. Today’s news is another big reason why Junior wanted to stay in a Chevy and not go to Gibbs. Plan on seeing a lot of Stewart and Hamlin in the Toyota commercials next year as well. Junior, Gordon, Johnson, Harvick, Burton, Bowywer, and Truex Jr become the main faces of chevy from now on. I’d take this group anytime over what any other manufacturer has currently. Also makes you wonder if GM will want to get another team to switch to Chevy or support another startup team?

09/05/2007 05:00 PM

A waste of an article. Surely anyone connected to NASCAR in some way recognizes that the organizations make up the sport’s “manufacturers,” not the decal on the grill.

Anyone who thinks that because the big three have beaten TRD in NASCAR 2007 means ANYTHING in Detroit is fooling themselves.

09/06/2007 02:39 PM

To M.B. Voelker:

The last time I looked at a map, Canada and Mexico were still part of North AMERICA. So, a car made in those countries may be “foreign” but it is still AMERICAN!

09/07/2007 06:17 AM

I think the Chinese and South Koreans should be in Nascar too. OHHH, and how about the French, Germans, and English. Bring it on. We can put a whoopin’ on all of them.

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