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2007 Season Preview: Toyota’s Impact On Nextel Cup

Editor’s Note: Miss Day One of our season preview, focusing on the Car of Tomorrow? Click here to check it out and get back up to speed on the project.

Loyal Readers,

After an anxious two months of anticipation, the offseason is finally nearing an end! With Daytona testing a distant memory, it’s less than three short weeks before the engines come to life and the 2007 Nextel Cup season hits the ground running.

Before the cars take off, though, it’s time to take a look at the issues that’ll make a difference in what’s bound to be one of the most important years for the sport in recent history. With anything from talented rookies to Toyota’s entrance in the sport making headlines, there’s plenty of issues for the Frontstretch faithful to weigh in on. Be sure to check out this space all this week and next to get our writers’ predictions on what’s bound to be NASCAR’s biggest season yet!

Here’s Today’s Season Preview Topic: What will the extent of Toyota’s impact be in their first year in Nextel Cup?

Tom Bowles, Managing Editor: It’s honestly hard to say. The driver lineup Toyota’s trotting out isn’t stellar – a collection of promising twentysomethings with unfulfilled potential mixed in with veterans well past their prime. But some of those men are anxious to prove themselves – Dale Jarrett is looking to finish his career with a bang, while Brian Vickers is trying to shake his underachieving image earned after three tough years at Hendrick. Jeremy Mayfield is also looking to resurrect his image after the rug was pulled out from under him in a nasty divorce with Evernham Motorsports last year.

With that said, this group will be the perpetual underdogs all season long; five of the seven Toyota teams aren’t even guaranteed a starting spot in the Daytona 500. But if the Camrys of Vickers, Mayfield and Jarrett can start qualifying consistently, one of them has a chance to steal a win before the year is through. And then, in 2008… look out.

Nikki Krone, Assistant Editor: Toyota will be competitive (top-10 finishes, etc.), but it will be a while before we see one in Victory Lane. However, towards the end of the season, a couple of teams will be challenging for leads in some big races and may seriously contend for a win.

Toni Heffelfinger, Assistant Editor: The only thing I question is the caliber of the teams Toyota is starting out with, along with the newness of them in the big field. Will they even make races with the high car count this season? It will certrainly be an uphill battle to win with the teams they have on board. However, they will have an impact right out of the box, as they put the manufacturers already in the sport immediately on the offensive.

For the real Toyota impact, though, I think you need to look a few years down the road, much like it took in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Kim DeHaven, Public Relations Coordinator: Not much! A few of the teams will have moderate success (making all the races and top-20 finishes) but inevitably, the rest will struggle. Give Toyota a few years and a chance to pluck a few more people from the NASCAR talent pool, and the “struggles” of 2007 will all be worth it, though.

Amy Henderson, Driver Interview Coordinator: I don’t really get what the big deal is. Toyota will be like Dodge coming back – good, because of extensive factory backing, but not great, because the learning curve can only be achieved in actual races. If Toyota’s success in the Craftsman Truck Series is an indicator, they’ll be as good as anyone in a few years. Better? Remains to be seen. As for the foreign car angle – get over it. They’re actually made in America, which is more then the others can say! All in all, Toyota is just another manufacturer. They’re in a good position too – if they don’t perform, they can place some of the blame on the fact that they have a group of mediocre drivers, as much of their stable is either very green or late in their careers.

Becca Gladden, Senior Writer: Any time a new manufacturer enters the sport, it is going to have an impact. Toyota has been successful in the Truck Series, and I expect them to be successful in Cup, as well.

Jeff Meyer, Senior Writer: Toyota’s involvement in NASCAR is a good thing. In fact, it may be the one thing that keeps NASCAR alive. It is no secret that the two American-owned companies (Ford and GM) along with the German company of Daimler/Chrysler are in dire financial straights. There are constant rumors that Ford, GM or Dodge may be pulling out. Toyota may be based in Japan, but it makes no difference where the home office of any one of the companies is located; NASCAR rules stipulate that cars participating in a race must be manufactured in the U.S. The simple fact is, the Camry is a better car than what the others have to offer, and they shouldn’t be penalized for that. If it wasn’t, then Ford and GM wouldn’t be in the position they are in. Not that a certain make of car makes any difference anyway! The cars of NASCAR are already clones of one another, and the CoT will only highlight that even further. At any rate, a car with a Toyota decal on it will actually WIN at least three races in 2007.

Mike Neff, Senior Writer: Toyota will make some noise in their first year in the series. Most likely they won’t snag a win, but there will be some strong runs, and there is even the possibility of a Toyota making the Chase.

Cami Starr, Senior Writer: I think Toyota may be in contention to win a few races this year; the addition of the new teams may put some extra pressure on the big boys in qualifying. But I think their main impact will be on the budget of the other teams and manufacturers. Some are already complaining that Toyota is outspending them, and rightfully so. But if the situations were reversed, I don’t believe they wouldn’t be doing the same. This same type of thing happened when all of the mega teams pushed out the single-car teams and owner/drivers. I’m not saying it’s right or fair, but if you want to play with the big boys, you need to adapt… Ford, GM and Dodge should remember that.

Beth Lunkenheimer, Contributor: Toyota has a big task ahead of them. In an already strong field chock full of Dodges, Chevys and Fords, Toyota is going to have to come out of the gate at Daytona ready to show everyone they mean business. They’ve already done well in the Craftsman Truck Series, having won the championship in 2006… but Nextel Cup is a different kind of monster. In all reality, 2007 will probably be a learning year for the Camry teams. I expect to see a Toyota driver threaten to win a few races and maybe even make a visit to Victory Lane, but I don’t, however, see Toyota threatening to make the Chase or win a championship.

Vito Pugliese, Contributor: Toyota’s impact will probably be similar to that of their first year in the Truck Series. By the end of the year they will probably have a couple of consistent cars (most likely with the Red Bull car of Vickers), but not any dominant teams that will make the Chase, even in its in an expanded format. The teams that Toyota has aligned themselves with aren’t exactly powerhouses to begin with, as most are start-up teams with little infrastructure in place. The one surprise, however, may be the No. 22 Bill Davis Caterpillar entry with Dave Blaney. BDR has been operating with zero factory support for their Dodges ever since they were found to be working with Toyota during their initial foray into NASCAR by way of the Craftsman Truck Series, and the infusion of cash may help Blaney rise to the top. Most of Toyota’s impact, though, will be felt through the garnering of talent not behind the wheel, but behind the wrenches, engineering know-how that should help them in the long-term future. I don’t see Toyota having the success they have in the Truck Series, but I don’t see them struggling mightily like they have in Formula 1. Wait a couple of years for Toyota to land a major powerhouse team, such as the rumored Penske transition, for them to make some real noise.

Meegan Sweeney, Contributor: I think they will create some damage to the competition, but I don’t think they will be on top, like Chevy has been for years. It’s going to take a while.

Tommy Thompson, Contributor: Look for Toyota to be fairly competitive from the start of the season. The Japanese automaker is not as far behind the curve in developing a racecar as some might think. The groundwork was laid in the Craftsman Truck Series, where, while struggling some in their first season, they quickly became the dominant manufacturer in that series.

But perhaps Toyota’s greatest impact in 2007 will come as a result of their deep pockets and how that affects the economics of all teams. Most notably, the wages that non-Toyota teams will have to “cough up” to retain their more valuable employees will continue to greatly increase overall operating costs.

What do you, our loyal readers, think about Toyota’s future impact on the sport? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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