Although Toyota has won four of 12 Cup races this season, including the past two, the president of Toyota Racing Development used the words “embarrassing,” “dog crap” and “unacceptable” in discussing a recent race, and performance this season.
A third of the way through the Cup season, Toyota has not shown the strength it did last year in winning 19 of 36 points races and the championship.
David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development said this week that the manufacture’s advantage has declined.
“It’s not that we’ve fallen behind as much as they’ve caught up, and there’s no question that that new Chevrolet Camaro and the nose that is on that car has elevated their program,” Wilson said. “The fact that they’re only sitting on two wins right now is shocking to me. I always look at not necessarily the wins, but the potential, what is the true potential of your race cars and that being a function of raw speed. You could argue that we’re punching above our weight right now and they’re not running at their full potential.”
Wilson said even with wins in the last two Cup races, that’s not satisfying because of the performance of the Toyota cars.
“Coming off two wins, I still think we’re on our back foot a little bit,” he said. “In many respects I feel much better about our loss at Atlanta than our win at Martinsville. … The reason I say that is because at Atlanta we had three cars in the top five, we led laps, we had a couple of cars that were good enough to win that race.
“In Martinsville, we embarrassed ourselves. This is one of the most embarrassing races I can remember for the Toyota family. We weren’t ready for the new tire that Goodyear brought to the racetrack. There’s circumstances behind it, but I’m not going to make excuses for it. We weren’t prepared for it.
“Our engine drivability was terrible. On pit lane and restarts. We could have had our worst finish since 2007 had it not been for Martin (Truex Jr.) hanging on long enough to get the car balanced correctly for the tires and putting himself, ultimately, in a position to win the race.
“I was encouraged at what we saw at (last weekend) Homestead. Where we need to be better is our consistency of how we unload from the haulers across the camp. We’ve had too many guys that are just dog crap for the first stage and use that time to try and catch up. That’s unacceptable. We should be better with the tools that we have, with the experience that we have, we should be better.
“There’s definitely room for improvement. Having said all of that, within our camp, within the JGR camp, we’re still positive because we know that our potential is there to lead laps and win races if we execute consistently on pit lane, if we do a better job with our sim, we will be in a position to win more races.”
Toyota is aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing, Leavine Family Family and Gaunt Brothers Racing. The drivers for JGR and Leavine all have scored significantly fewer points in the first stage compared to the second stage, illustrating Wilson’s frustration with how the teams begin the race.
Erik Jones has scored 12.5% of all his stage points in the first stage. Reigning Cup champion Kyle Busch has scored 29.6% of all his stage points in the first stage. Martin Truex Jr. has scored 37.8% of all his stage points in the first stage. Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin has scored 41.6% of all his stage points in the first stage.
To compare, Chase Elliott, who has a series-best 141 stage points this season, has scored 51.8% of all his stage points in the first stage. Joey Logano, who is tied with Truex for second with 127 stage points, has scored 49.6% of all his stage points in the first stage.
Among manufacturers, Fords have won six of the season’s first 12 races and Chevrolet has won twice this season.
Even if Toyota went on to win 12 Cup races this season, based on its current pace, it would be its fewest wins in a season since 2014. Toyota has averaged 15.6 Cup wins a season since 2015.
2. Looking ahead to 2021
With the Next Gen car’s debut pushed back to 2022, the sport will have an additional year with the current rules. That also means an additional year with a similar workforce. With the move to the Next Gen car, teams are expected to reduce their workforce because of limits on the cars.
Now, teams will keep a similar workforce through next year while finding sponsorship at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the economy.
David Wilson, president of the Toyota Racing Development, said next year will be among the key points discussed in a meeting among the manufacturers with NASCAR next week.
“Part of the agenda is going to be looking at ’21 and how do we as an industry help our teams bridge one more year that wasn’t in the plan,” Wilson said. “We already have enough teams in trouble and on the brink. The focus needs to be not selfishly on us as individual (manufacturers) but on the industry as a whole.”
3. Talladega changes
Rule changes for Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway will lead to slower speeds as NASCAR looks to reduce the chance of a crash similar to what Ryan Newman experienced at the end of the Daytona 500.
Among the changes is a reduction in the throttle body from 59/64” to 57/64” that is expected to reduce horsepower by 35-40. That would put teams around 510-515 horsepower this weekend.
NASCAR also has eliminated the aero ducts to help reduce the likelihood of tandem drafting.
One change not made was to the spoiler. John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of innovation and racing development, explained why such a change wasn’t made.
“Certainly spoiler changes were looked at,” Probst told reporters this week. “… The items that were under consideration were largely centered around slowing (cars) down, which would usually mean a bigger spoiler.
The spoiler that we have on there now is as tall as we can get them without putting significant bending … on the deck lid to the point at which we’d be worried structurally. From that standpoint, getting larger wasn’t really a good option. The more direct knob for us to turn to slow the cars down is directly to the horsepower.”
Another change is the addition of slip tape to the rear bumper. The contact from Ryan Blaney‘s car to the rear of Newman’s car triggered Newman’s crash.
“We’re trying to make the rear bumper of the car being hit like ice, where they slide across, don’t contact and start influencing the car in front laterally, left to right, if you will,” Probst said.
4. COVID-19 protocols
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, was asked this week if the sport has had anyone test positive for the coronavirus and about the status of protocols NASCAR has in place for each race weekend.
“Everything has been going, actually, remarkably smooth, in terms of the protocols that have been set in place,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve certainly had some folks who may have presented some symptoms that we’ve turned away early. That’s up to them to disclose if there were any issues in terms of did someone have COVID or not, but I would say (the protocols have) worked 100% according to plan.
“We’ve not had challenges during an event where anything has come up where we’ve had to react during the hours that the garage was open. It’s been if there were any issues prior to someone entering the facility, which have been very minimal.
“We expect there will be some challenges. We need to continue to do our due diligence. We need to continue to wear our masks. We need to continue to follow the protocols.”
5. Leader of the pack
Team Penske has won seven of the last 11 Cup races at Talladega Superspeedway, a 63.6% winning percentage.
Brad Keselowski has won four times during that stretch. Joey Logano has three wins during that time, and Ryan Blaney won last year’s playoff race.