David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, is understanding but impatient as Toyota heads toward an inglorious anniversary.
Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway marks one year since Toyota’s last win at an unrestricted track.
“Last year was, again, extremely disappointing and fell well short of our goals,’’ Wilson told NASCAR Talk. “Arguably, anything short of winning now is unacceptable.’’
Kyle Busch scored Toyota’s last victory at an unrestricted track when he went to Victory Lane a year ago at Auto Club Speedway, which is located about an hour from Toyota Racing Development’s headquarters. (Toyota did win with Denny Hamlin at Talladega a few weeks later but hasn’t won since).
Toyota’s woes contrast the dominance it showed two years ago. Toyota won 14 of 36 races in 2013. That total dipped to two wins last year, leading into this 30-race winless streak since Hamlin’s Talladega win.
Although Toyota’s drought continued after last weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway, Wilson sees progress.
The engine issues Toyota had last year have faded. Toyota had fifth-place finishes at Atlanta (Matt Kenseth) and Las Vegas (Denny Hamlin). It took Toyota six races to score top-five finishes at unrestricted tracks early last season.
“The initial indication from our drivers is that our engine is good,’’ Wilson said.
Still, work remains. Toyota drivers have combined to lead 36 of 1,107 laps this season (3.3 percent). Toyota had two cars start in the top 10 at Atlanta and Phoenix and one at Las Vegas. None started better than fourth.
“The cars are a little bit off,’’ Wilson said. “That’s a combo of aero and chassis. I think, arguably right now, the focus is probably a little bit more toward the chassis and the setups, which dictate the handling of the car.’’
That was evident at Phoenix last weekend. Hamlin complained about his car’s handling after finishing 23rd and noted that Joe Gibbs Racing has struggled at the track the last couple of seasons. Hamlin wasn’t the only one who could not get his car to turn in the corners. No Toyota finished better than 13th at Phoenix.
Wilson remains confident that the problems can be fixed.
“We do believe that we’re not getting outsmarted,’’ he told NASCAR Talk. “We do believe that we have the recourses comparable to our competition. In the end, it’s just a matter of deploying those resources and executing. To be pessimistic right now is way premature.’’
Wilson also understands it will be challenging to catch Kevin Harvick, who has won the past two races, Atlanta winner Jimmie Johnson and others.
“While you’re thrashing to get better and better and better, you’re not shooting at a stationary target,’’ Wilson said. “Ultimately, in order to close the gap, your rate of improvement has to exceed your competition’s rate of improvement.’’
Still, Wilson’s goal remains to have four Toyotas in the 16-car Chase for the Sprint Cup. His goal had been five Toyotas but that changed after Busch was injured in the season-opening Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway.
“In the end, by the time we get to (Homestead for the finale), I will want two Toyotas (in it),’’ he said.