The Frontstretch: The Day The Biscuit Wheels Fell Off Toyota's Gravy Train by Vito Pugliese -- Tuesday March 18, 2008

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The Day The Biscuit Wheels Fell Off Toyota's Gravy Train

Voice of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Tuesday March 18, 2008


Tony Stewart’s late-race wreck was one of a series of missteps for Toyota at Bristol Sunday afternoon.

Over the years, Japanese auto manufacturers have built a reputation of building vehicles that are as reliable as the Pet Rock. The rationale behind purchasing a car from the Asian auto giant was its above-average fuel efficiency, and that the machines were as mechanically trustworthy as a St. Bernard with a small barrel of elixir strapped to its neck. But while Joe Gibbs Racing's Toyotas have shown irrefutable speed early on this season, one similarity they have not echoed is the corporate nameplate's distinguished record for reliability and quality control.

Yes, the same company that brought you the Lexus luxury brand was also privy to Kyle Busch's intermittent steering and Denny Hamlin's semi-active fuel delivery system last weekend. For during Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol, everything that possibly could go wrong did go wrong with a Toyota.

Kyle Busch encountered yet more misfortune while leading a Cup race for the second time in three weeks. Coming off of the second turn, the steering in his Camry failed to respond. Although he wanted to straighten the wheel, it stayed turned to the left, effectively committing automotive Harri Karri. The failure was not much different than in 2002 when, while on the parade lap for the Fall Talladega race, Mark Martin was busy swerving his car back and forth to warm the tires. As he cut the wheel left, the steering locked, sending him and pole sitter Jimmie Johnson into the infield grass.

Oh, well; while Busch was frustrated, at least something like that would never happen to another Toyota — especially one running back in the pack and out of contention for a win.

No, those just burst into flames.

Witness Mike Skinner, one of the car builder's top guns in the Craftsman Truck Series — as well as the stopgap solution to the problem-plagued No. 84 Red Bull team — who spontaneously combusted on the frontstretch during the race. Following minor contact in a chain reaction spawned by Busch's spin, Skinner managed to knock an oil line loose on his Camry. Car ablaze, he went in search of a fire engine, which prompted flashbacks to the 1992 Hooters 500 from Atlanta and Richard Petty's flame-throwing Pontiac. The King was heard to instruct the safety crew to, "git the ****in' fire ‘stinguisher!". If Skinner uttered such a command, no one heard it … people just saw his car burnt to a crisp.

As if that wasn’t enough, with 11 laps to go the other Red Bull entry, manned by Brian Vickers, had a tire go down (a Goodyear tire failure? Imagine that…), sending his car into the outside retaining wall and squaring off the starboard side of his No. 83 machine. It wasn't as if things were rosy for him to begin with, as Vickers’ brakes came and went throughout the race — an issue that has plagued the No. 83 in consecutive weeks (and for most of 2007, I might add). Being able to stop, or at least slow down, prior to plowing into something is favorable.

Lesson for Toyota: Anti-Lock Brakes are good. Anti-Brake Brakes are bad.

Of course, that chain of events set the stage for the climactic Bristol finish between teammates Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin — seemingly the only two Toyotas left standing. On the restart, Hamlin managed to get by Stewart coming out of the fourth turn with five laps to go, after the No. 20 had trouble getting off the corner. Moments later, Kevin Harvick got into the side of Stewart as the two exited turn one, sending Big Orange backwards into the wall and shaving a few cubic feet off its Camry's trunk capacity. Stewart, however, was able to drive away to the prompt attention of the Home Depot crew.

Toyota does make safe vehicles, after all.

And almost lost in this fiasco was Dale Jarrett, who was making his final start driving what has become the familiar white and brown UPS livery, a ride he has sported since 2001. Jarrett started the race in 37th position, in provisional land, after qualifying was rained out on Friday. But after a flat tire and multiple problems, a land of his own is exactly where the man would stay; as the race wound down, Jarrett's car could be seen coasting around the bottom of the racetrack, trying to keep from getting run over by the leaders.

That’s hardly a fitting end for a storied career that includes three Daytona 500 victories and a Winston Cup title in 1999. Jarrett’s car was so slow that if those tail light appliqués functioned, the left one would have been seen blinking for the last 20 miles.

As this afternoon of Russian Roulette drew to a close, Toyota's final round in the cylinder was Denny Hamlin's FedEx Camry. Hamlin may have been able to escape a sophomore slump in 2007, but a junior jinx seems to be alive and well in '08. As the driver came up to speed for a green/white/checker finish, his Toyota stumbled, then had its headlight stickers sucked off as Jeff Burton's blindingly bright orange Impala flew by to secure the victory. Hamlin was apparently felled by a nagging fuel pickup issue, one he and the entire Gibbs organization has suffered from dating back to its introduction last season with the Car of Tomorrow. When the CoT (and Gibbs' CoTs, in particular) is low on fuel, it has trouble getting enough fuel into the pickup to accelerate; JGR seems to be the one team that continues to be snakebitten by this gremlin.

Here’s the bottom line after all this mess: if the Gibbs cars were being sold to the public, they'd likely be recalled by the factory.

Lest you think that this misfortune was confined to East Tennessee, though, think again. The Formula One season got going Down Under, about 12 hours before the Food City 500. In Melbourne, Australia, the Toyota of Germany's Timo Glock was docked 10 grid places after a transmission change and a qualifying violation on Saturday. Adding injury to insult, he slid off the course during the race and drove over an access road. This road was angled in such a manner as to create a launching ramp for his TF108, sending man and machine into a low-Earth orbit before crashing back onto the track. Thankfully, Glock escaped with only a sprained wrist, but the stage had been set for Sunday’s disappointment.

When all was said and done, this past weekend was an ironic and unfortunate turn of events for Toyota. Its idea behind getting further involved in NASCAR was not only to participate in what has become the most prestigious form of auto racing in North America, but also to help consume another slice of the American auto market share pie. But having all of its cars seemingly cursed and doomed to fail in grand fashion was probably not what it had in mind after getting off to such an epic start in 2008 — particularly in light of last year's unmitigated disasters. Fortunately for the Toyota teams, and more so for Joe Gibbs Racing, the circuit now has a week off. Toyota has time to regroup and evaluate where it sources parts, determining how it might better configure such trivial items as brakes, oil systems, and fuel delivery items. After all, Martinsville is next up on the schedule.

And what could possibly go wrong there?

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots


©2000 - 2008 Vito Pugliese and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

03/18/2008 08:01 AM

This is a joke … right?

Do you honestly think that any of the misfortune you describe has anything to do with Japan? The NASCAR vehicles are as American as you or I, unless of course you are pure Native American. My great grandmother was Cherokee but I’m mostly Scot.
I’m not one to wave the Toyo flag at all, but I will be the first to point out an inane argument based on fallacy and appeals to stereotype.

What you have done here in fact is call into question the skills and abilities of the AMERICAN crews that hand built these cars.

03/18/2008 08:19 AM

So what brought on this tirade against TOYOTA??


Really disappointing to hear about your personal vendetta against TOYOTA!

Remember, NA$CAR invited them to the show!!

It’s called $$$$$$$$$$!

03/18/2008 08:22 AM

Hey “mariettadawg”, another “fellow” scot here. FYI!!

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
03/18/2008 08:50 AM

Actually, it is kind of a joke. All I was doing was illustrating how Toyota had a bad day for a myriad or reasons. That’s why they call it irony; because it’s ironic. I stated that they might need to find new parts vendors, not a new manufacturer. I’d say that’s QUITE a stretch with the stereotype comment as well, as I am of certain ethnic decent myself.

Reutimann fan
03/18/2008 08:54 AM

Vito,I sure hope Toyota doesn’t use any of your misimformed information that you described in this poorly written article. Evidently you know nothing about racing.

03/18/2008 08:56 AM

Consider this as “you asked for it”!!

Did I ever tell you the story about my American made Ford F-150?? Year 2000, a $27,000 truck! Bought new in 2000, in 2003 or so received recall notice re: cruise control. Please come in and get it fixed! Took truck to dealer, a few minutes later he says it is fine, and OK to drive. I start to drive home, no cruise control. Go immediately back to dealer, tell him it does not work, he says, Oh , yes, they “just disconnected the cruise control because they don’t know how to fix it”!!

Gee, thanks for telling me!

So some six (6) months later, another recall notice to take my truck in for fixing cruise control! Took truck in, drive into service area, he says, sorry, the parts they sent us did not work so he could not install them.

Away I went with my $27,000 F-150 still without the cruise control.

Another six (6) months went by, now a year w/o cruise, get yet another notice to take truck in. This time very smart! Called the dealer, some 25 miles away, he says yep! Bring it in! I go the next day, pull in, and guess what! FOMOCO shorted him on the repair parts and he could not fix my cruise control! (I will leave out just how ugly I got at that dealership, “how dare me to buy a Ford Truck and expect it to work”)!!

And, along the way, I told him I was going to re-connect the cruise so I could use it! He said!!! Get this!!! “I am making a note in your file, if your truck burns it will be totally your fault and not ours”!!

So, since I had a long trip coming up, I got under the hood and connected my cruise control so I could use it on my 2400 mile round trip! Isn’t that what you pay $27,000 for? A vehicle that actually works? Not in Ford’s minds!

THEN!!!!! I find out, that not only has Ford had this peoblem since the mid-90’s, they were still building trucks like this, with defective cruise controls, into the 2006 model years! And they still did not have a fix for it!!

So, any more Toyota bashing?? Bet I have a response!!

03/18/2008 09:15 AM

Douglas, you mak me want to puke……..why don’t you move to japan….I’ll chip in a few bucks to get rid of your slanted opinion on EVERYTHING you comment on!

03/18/2008 09:28 AM

This was just stupid. I guess I don’t have to click on Vito’s columns any more…absolute waste of time.

03/18/2008 09:39 AM

Hey Johnboy60, thank you for your kind comments!

But I think my writing was more factual than the base article!

You sound like G.W. Bush, “if you don’t believe me your UN-American”!!

It is simply a response to Toyota bashing, and I have no ties to Toyota!

Facts is Facts!

I quote from Vito “distinguished record for reliability and quality control”!

Even though I think Vito was talking about JGR, the heavy implications to Toyota itself plainly opened the door!

If you don’t want that area of concern discussed, then don’t open it!

03/18/2008 09:39 AM

Toyota assembles the cars here in America by workers who aren’t represented by a union and are paid less than their labor is worth. How do you think they can sell the cars so cheap. And don’t deceive yourself for a minute into thinking all that yen stays here in America. It’s shipped back to Japan as fast as they can rack it up. Japan uses it to buy the lead paint they use to manufacture toys to send to America. So long as Americans defend the foreign manufacturer and foreign import of what should be American manufactured products, then you all get what you deserve. WalMart is full of poorly constructed foreign imported products. Buy ‘em up at their cheap prices and enjoy. I’ll keep looking for the “Made in America” tag because I know the products will be around for a long time. I cheer everytime a Toyota wrecks or has an engine problem. Bristol was a great week. Viva America!

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
03/18/2008 09:42 AM

I have a 2007 Ford Mustang GT. It is equipped with the preffered rattle convenience group. There is a metallic rattling coming from the midship area that comes and goes.

I really do not have a clue what I am talking about. It was a figment of my imagination that virtually ALL of the Toyotas had a bad day on Sunday for a variety of reasons as listed above. Good thing I TiVo’ed it, I better watch it again.

Margo L
03/18/2008 09:55 AM

Vito , interesting logic you show here . Not very bright , but interesting . What was the conclusion that you hoped for , yet never articulated ? Toyota should withdraw from racing because they had a so-so weekend ? All of the Toyota teams are incompetent and should be replaced ?
Well lets break down some of your assertions . Skinners fire a result of poor engineering by the Davis team ? Oil coolers and oil lines break after minor collisions all the time . How does the Skinner incident become noteworthy ?
The three fastest cars in the race were the three Gibbs Toyotas , so if the Gibbs cars were being sold to the public , i’d say the public was getting a pretty good deal .
No matter what speed Dale Jarrett was racing at , it was far faster than any speed you would be capable of racing at .
I only hope Toyota execs don’t read your insightfull and brilliantly reasoned comments and decide to just shelve the whole racing idea because of one off weekend . For that matter , you might want to let Hendrick know that he needs to fold up his NASCAR effort due to lousy finishes in the last few races.

03/18/2008 10:01 AM

Hey Annie! Yep, good point! I have two Son’s that work for the big three, hourly, union, they love it! Why?? Because they make over $150,000/year in the plant! (one Chrysler, one Ford, FYI!)

And why don’t you ask where our Federal Government borrows all it’s money from????

SURPRISE! Bet you thought that was American Dollars $$$$ you had in your pocket!

03/18/2008 10:03 AM

Hey Vito! Better wear long sleeves today!

The hornets have been stirred up!!

At least you know someone reads your columns!

03/18/2008 11:47 AM

$150,000 paid to hourly union workers to assemble American cars?

Now that sure does shed some light on why we pay $40,000 for a $15,000 truck. Don’t cry the blues now American Auto; your beloved union has positioned you behind the 8 ball.

03/18/2008 12:14 PM

Vito, I was one of the few that realized your cmments were meant ironically & tongue in cheek. I got it. It wasn’t very funny & was far too belabored in an attempt to be funny, but I got it.

In the future try having a beginning, a middle section, & a conclusion planned out in what you write, instead of meandering around in a vain attempt at “humor”.

For Annie, just a few observations. I was a UAW member for 11 years, (& have been a member of 2 other unions in my life, I am VERY pro union, yet I drive a 2004 Toyota Camry that was built in America, NOT in Mexico or Canada like so many American badged vehicles. You want to talk cheap labor? Talk to the Mexican assembly line worker that makes about $5 an hour or less to build the gas hog trucks & SUV’s our country is so enamored with, in addition to the myriad of American badged cars built over there. Plus I grew tired of the poor quality being foisted off on the American public, due to the fat bonuses American management gets for increasing production, at the expense of quality & pride in one’s work. My 2004 Camry has 120,000 miles on it, with zero work, (other than regular maintenance), needed & not a rattle or squeak to be heard. In contrast my 1999 Chrysler Concorde was nothing but a lemon, requiring 5 transmission sensors in 5 years, had a front end that couldn’t be kept aligned, resulting in a yearly replacement of both front tires, whether they were rotated on a regular basis or not. Add in that it rattled & squeaked almost from day one. I dropped that lemon after only 60,000 miles & never looked back.

I know how upper & mid level management works in this type of company, I was a union representative for several years & dealt with them during contract negotiations, grievance procedures & other instances.

Just a little FYI: Toyota builders in the US make comparable to the wages & benefits in a typical UAW plant, thus the reason the UAW can’t get a foothold in there. If you already get it, (even though it’s not in a contract, & thus is subject to being taken away at any time), how can you see what you need?

Another FYI, (& quoting from your post):

“And don’t deceive yourself for a minute into thinking all that yen stays here in America. It’s shipped back to Japan as fast as they can rack it up. Japan uses it to buy the lead paint they use to manufacture toys to send to America.”

It’s Chinese made toys that have the lead paint you’re referring to, not Japanese. Please do try to keep your Asian nations straight in your stereotypical ranting & foaming at the mouth knee jerk, jingoistic “patriotism”.

China is also our biggest lender nation, so we are really selling our country to them, both in manufacturing job losses & in ownership of our debt.

03/18/2008 12:58 PM

Great one, Vito, although it appears that you’ve smoked out the night shift at the local Toyota assembly plant. Either that or the biggest pocket of Jap-scrap aficionados this side of Yokohama. :O]

By way of full disclosure, I own a Toyota Corolla, a Buick Park Avenue, and an old Geo. I just had to put down my old Ford Winstar (165K). Oh yeah, and there’s an 1973 MGB-GT under a tarp in the garage.

P.S.: the proper spelling for the colloquialism for seppuku is “hara-kiri” Which did, in fact, pretty much seem to be what all the rice-burners at Bristol were up to.

03/18/2008 01:00 PM

The bad steering that nailed Martin’s Ford was built by Toyota? Or the fuelk pickups in the 2007 JGR Chevies were built by Toyota? Gee, I didn’t know that. Or….were they built by an american company in all cases?

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
03/18/2008 01:05 PM

I like how this has degenerated into an argument over the state of the automotive industry. Oh well. Thanks for reading my explination of Toyotas bursting apart at the seems. Next time I will entitle such an article, “Homoginized spec racers with corporate headlight decals have bad luck in Southeastern mountain range.”

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
03/18/2008 01:24 PM

I was not implying that Toyota makes parts that the teams source from parts vendors. The opposite is actually stated a couple of times.

03/18/2008 01:53 PM

“As the driver came up to speed for a green/white/checker finish, his Toyota stumbled, then had its headlight stickers sucked off as Jeff Burton’s blindingly bright orange Impala flew by to secure the victory.”

Here´s Captain America to save the day!

Tah-dah tah-daaah!

03/18/2008 02:21 PM

More rantings!

You think Toyota is bad? Heck, both a Dodge, #12, and a Chevy, #70, had engines that could not even take a few laps qualifying/practicing. Both had to have replacements even before the race!

Both engines were probably built on a Monday when the workers still had hangovers!

Oh, your “homoginized spec racers with corporate headlight decals”, etc, is a good one!

Now that sums up NA$CAR!!

“Ironically & tongue in cheek”??? LOL!

More like “head up a**”!!

Ok, I’m sorry, but I could not pass that one up!

E.J. Camburn
03/18/2008 02:28 PM

This is why I only read a handful of articles on this site anymore… Everything is anti-NEW. Hate the new car. Hate the new drivers (ie. Montoya). Hate the Chase. Hate the new Bristol. Hate Toyota. Enough!

03/18/2008 03:23 PM

What a great race: Busch crashes, Stewart crashes, Skinner burns, Hamlin sputters, Jarret is as slow as my 80 year old neighbor in her Camry. And no, don’t tell me that there’s anything remotely American about TOYOTA. I’m a Ford guy but I was cheering for the Bakersfield basher those last few laps.

03/18/2008 04:49 PM

HMMM? Made in America?? Some of you boys ought to check your VIN #‘s. Check it out to see if your AMERICAN MADE car was built in CANADA or MEXICO. Did you know that FORD’s new Hybrid power plants are purchased from TOYOTA Better do some research. I’m pretty sure that those fuel pick ups and power steering units are good old USA parts. Maybe they would be better if manufactered here in the states like so many of the other TOYOTA parts are now.I think that TOYOTA between their auto plants, parts plants and dealerships,are now one of the largest employers of AMERICAN labor in the AMERICAN automobile industry.

03/18/2008 05:32 PM

Vito? Are the hornets still buzzing?

They will quiet down when the sun sets!

And I think you just set a record for responses and comments here!


Joe White
03/19/2008 12:15 AM

Wow!! You Toyota people have no sense of humor do you? The story was funny and also, buy the way, true. The Toyotas had a rough day on Sunday. It happens. Get over yourselves. It is this feeling of superiority that makes us non Toyota fans not like your cars at all. I have great respect for Dale Jarrett but I stopped pulling for him when he joined the Toyota camp. The company does not have the history in this type of racing, and please tell me when Toyota ever built a V8 car, not truck, car!! I love the tradition of this sport and that is Chevy, Ford and Dodge. That is a fact. So chill out and accept the bad day. There will be more, but sad to say you will have good days too. Way to much money to stink every week.

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