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Friday 5: Despite 2 wins in a row, Toyota boss has sharp words for teams

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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.”

MORE: Toyota executive keen on keeping young Cup drivers

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.

David Wilson. (Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

“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. 

The races not won by a Team Penske driver during that stretch were won by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola and Chase Elliott.

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McDonald’s, Credit One Bank, Clover terminate sponsorship of Kyle Larson

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Credit One Bank, McDonald’s and Clover all announced Monday that they are terminating sponsorship of Kyle Larson for using a racial slur during an iRacing event Sunday night.

All three companies sponsored Larson’s car for all 36 Cup points races last year.

Credit One Bank said in a statement: “As stated earlier, Credit One Bank denounces the highly offensive language used by Kyle Larson during Sunday’s iRacing event. In addition to the quick actions taken by NASCAR and Chip Ganassi Racing, Credit One Bank is terminating its sponsorship of Kyle Larson.”

Credit One Bank was the sponsor of Larson’s car in the Daytona 500 and the following weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Credit One sponsored Larson’s car in 18 of 36 Cup points races in 2019.

McDonald’s said in a statement: “We were extremely disappointed and appalled to hear about this incident. The comments made by Kyle Larson are insensitive, offensive and not reflective of our inclusive values and will not be tolerated. McDonald’s is taking immediate action to terminate the relationship with Larson.”

McDonald’s sponsored Larson’s car at Auto Club Speedway and Phoenix Raceway this season. McDonald’s sponsored Larson’s car in 10 of 36 Cup points races in 2019.

Clover announced Monday night that it also was terminating its sponsorship of Larson. Clover stated: “We denounce the language used during Sunday’s iRacing event. We support the actions taken today by NASCAR and the Chip Ganassi Racing Team, and are terminating our sponsorship of Kyle Larson.”

Clover was scheduled to have sponsored Larson’s car at Atlanta before that became the first race postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Clover sponsored Larson’s car in eight of 36 Cup points races last year.

MORE: Kyle Larson issues apology

Larson was participating in the Monza Madness iRacing exhibition race Sunday night. Video from another competitor’s twitch stream caught the slur from Larson across the audio channel where drivers can talk to all competitors. When a driver speaks on that channel, their name appears on each driver’s screen.

In the video, Larson, who has Japanese-American heritage, said: “You can’t hear me? Hey (racial slur).”

NASCAR suspended Larson indefinitely Monday and will require him to complete sensitivity training. Chip Ganassi Racing announced that it had suspended Larson without pay. Also, Chevrolet, the manufacturer aligned with Chip Ganassi Racing, stated that it had suspended its relationship with Larson indefinitely and is “prepared to take additional action.”

Advent Health, which sponsored Larson’s car in the Busch Clash, issued a statement Monday night.

One sponsor announced it is sticking with Larson. Finley Farms stated it would continue to sponsor Larson’s sprint car efforts.

Plan B Sales stated that it would continue to support Larson in sprint car racing.

Kyle Larson suspended indefinitely by NASCAR

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NASCAR driver Kyle Larson suspended indefinitely and the sport and will require him to attend sensitivity training, the sanctioning body announced Monday. (Chip Ganassi Racing ended their relationship with Larson on Tuesday.)

NASCAR stated: “NASCAR has made diversity and inclusion a priority and will not tolerate the type of language used by Kyle Larson during Sunday’s iRacing event. Our Member Conduct Guidelines are clear in this regard, and we will enforce these guidelines to maintain an inclusive environment for our entire industry and fan base.”

MORE: Kyle Larson issues apology

MORE: McDonald’s, Credit One Bank, Clover terminate sponsorship of Kyle Larson 

Earlier Monday, Chip Ganassi Racing announced that it suspended Larson without pay, stating: “We are extremely disappointed by what Kyle said last night during an iRacing Event. The words that he chose to use are offensive and unacceptable. As of this moment we are suspending Kyle without pay while we work through this situation with all appropriate parties.”

Chevrolet, the manufacturer for Chip Ganassi Racing, stated Monday: “Chevrolet has suspended its relationship with Kyle Larson indefinitely, as we do not tolerate this behavior. We will continue to monitor the events surrounding Mr. Larson and are prepared to take additional action.”

Larson was participating in the Monza Madness iRacing exhibition race Sunday night. Video from another competitor’s twitch stream caught the slur from Larson across the audio channel where drivers can talk to all competitors. When a driver speaks on that channel, their name appears on each driver’s screen.

In the video, Larson, who has Japanese-American heritage, said: “You can’t hear me? Hey (racial slur).”

Xfinity driver Anthony Alfredo then said: “Kyle, you’re talking to everyone, bud.”

Aron MacEachern said: “Yep, we heard that.”

IndyCar driver Conor Daly said: “Yikes.”

NASCAR’s Code of Conduct (Section 12.8.a) states that:

“NASCAR membership is a privilege. With that privilege comes certain benefits, responsibilities and obligations. Correct and proper conduct, both on and off the race track, is part of a Member’s responsibilities. A Member’s actions can reflect upon the sport as a whole and on other NASCAR Members. Ideally, NASCAR Members are role models for the many fans who follow this sport, regardless of the type of license a Member may hold, or the specific Series in which a Member may participate. Therefore, NASCAR views a Member’s conduct, both on and off the race track, which might constitute a behavioral Rules violation under this Rule Book with great importance.”

The Cup Rule Book states in Section 12.8.1.e that a member’s action that could result in a fine and/or indefinite suspension, or termination:

“Public statement and/or communication that criticizes, ridicules, or otherwise disparages another person based upon that person’s race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, age, or handicapping condition.”

The Cup Rule Book states in Section 12.8.1.f factors that NASCAR may consider when reviewing a matter might include:

  • When and where the incident(s) occurred.
  • The perceivable or potential ramifications to others and/or to the sport.
  • Available empirical data.
  • Member’s past history.
  • Possible effects to fans, safety workers, crew members.
  • Any extenuating circumstances.
  • Was the explanation(s) plausible given the circumstances.
  • Was there an indication of genuine remorse or attempts to work things out with the other party(s) in a civil manner, and so on.

Larson is in the last year of his contract at Chip Ganassi Racing and was expected to be among the top free agents available.

Credit One Bank, a sponsor of Larson’s No. 42 team at Chip Ganassi Racing said in a statement that it “denounces the highly offensive language used by Kyle Larson during Sunday’s iRacing event.”

Also Monday, iRacing announced that it has suspended Larson indefinitely, stating: “Kyle Larson’s language last night during a streamed online race was both offensive and inappropriate, and in violation of our sporting code. As such, Kyle Larson has been suspended indefinitely from the iRacing service.”

Auto Club winners and losers

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WINNERS

Alex BowmanAfter his chance to win at Las Vegas ended because of a pit call, Bowman rebounded to win at Auto Club Speedway and score his second career victory.

Parity — A year after Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing won 19 of 36 races, all three manufacturers have a win in the first three races of the season. Chevrolet was the last to join the group with Alex Bowman’s win. It wasn’t until race 10 last year that a Chevrolet won a Cup race.

Harrison Burton (and Kim Burton) — Among the more entertaining moments when Jeff Burton won would be seeing wife Kim Burton’s reactions over the final laps of the race. That continued this past weekend with Harrison Burton scoring his first career Xfinity win. Kim’s reactions were priceless and Harrison’s burnout was spectacular.

Anthony Alfredo Had only made 13 Truck races last year and marked his Xfinity debut this past weekend by finishing sixth for Richard Childress Racing at Auto Club Speedway.

 

LOSERS

Martin Truex Jr. Pit road woes again cost Truex a chance at a top-five finish. Instead, a slow stop led to a 14th-place finish at Auto Club.

Ryan Blaney He appeared on his way to at least a runner-up finish until he had to pit in the final laps for a tire issue. That dropped him to a 19th-place finish … but he’s still the points leader.

Christopher BellA bolt from another car put a hole in the oil cooler, ending his day. Bell has begun his Cup career by finishing 21st (Daytona), 33rd (Las Vegas) and 38th (Auto Club)

Chevy drivers positive about new Camaro body after Las Vegas

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Positive reviews are in from a few Chevrolet Cup drivers after their first race on an intermediate track with the updated Camaro ZL1 1LE body, which was introduced this year in an effort to improve the manufacturer’s performance after two lackluster seasons.

Those reviews are backed by the final results for Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After the chaos created by a last-lap crash, six Chevrolets finished in the top 10. They were led by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson placing in the top five.

That followed Chase Elliott leading 70 laps and winning both stages before his one-car incident in the middle of the final stage.

In last year’s spring race on the 1.5-mile track, only two Chevys – Kurt Busch (fifth) and Elliott (ninth) – finished in the top 10. Three Chevy drivers combined to lead 23 of the race’s 267 laps.

“We’re trying to just understand this new Camaro body and the setup that needs to go with it,” said Johnson. “We’re close, but there’s still a little bit more work for us to do on our car to get the balance between the clean air and the traffic closer. But for the first try on a downforce track, the guys did a really nice job.”

Johnson earned his first top five since last July’s race at Daytona. He placed 19th in this race last year.

“It’s really rewarding to see,” Johnson said. “Last year when we left here, we had quite the opposite feeling and were pretty worried about what the year was going to hold for us. So, it’s really nice to have that change of perspective now. There’s a lot of Chevys up front, one of our Hendrick cars led for a while. So, we’re going the right way.”

Johnson’s teammate, Alex Bowman, was running in second when the final caution came out inside 10 laps to go. After his team chose to pit, Bowman placed 13th.

“This new Camaro, for its first time on a downforce track, I’m just really pleased with it so far,” Bowman said. “I think it’s going to be really good for us. Obviously, I’m bummed out to finish 13th after staring at a second place or a win. But it’s part of it; it’s how racing goes. We win as a team and lose as a team. It just didn’t go our way there at the end.”

Last year, Chevrolet only earned seven wins, with two coming on 1.5-mile tracks. Bowman claimed one of those at Chicagoland Speedway.

Added Bowman: “Compared to how we started the last two seasons, I think we’ve got something for them this year.”

One Chevrolet driver said it was “still early” for assessing the new bodies.

“I think the Hendrick cars were really good,” said Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, who placed ninth. “I felt about the same as last year. So, we just have to continue to get better.”