The president of Toyota Racing Development calls Kyle Busch’s playoff elimination due to an engine failure at Bristol, “the worst nightmare imaginable for me personally and for our team.
“We cost Kyle Busch a shot at his third championship,” David Wilson told NBC Sports on Tuesday.
Busch was eliminated in the opening round after suffering engine failures at Darlington and Bristol. It marks the first time in his career that Busch has failed to advance beyond the first round.
Wilson said changes have been made to all Toyota engines ahead of Sunday’s playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network). The engine changes will be implemented for the rest of the playoffs.
“We’re not giving up our performance potential,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “We feel like it’s conservative enough to get us kind of out of this danger zone.”
Busch’s elimination leaves Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell as Toyota’s only competitors racing for the drivers championship.
“Whether we’re so fortunate enough to possibly win a championship with either Christopher or Denny later this year, I’m still going to be haunted by what happened, not just in Bristol, but Darlington as well,” Wilson said. “Two engine failures across three weeks is unheard of. It’s unacceptable.”
The engine woes come after Toyota did not have a single engine failure in Cup last season.
Wilson said that Toyota has found the issue with its engines.
“We have some sort of an instability in our valve train and it seems to be triggered by us running into NASCAR’s mandated rev limiter, interestingly enough,” Wilson said.
At Darlington, Busch missed an upshift from fourth to fifth gear, contributing to the engine failure. “He buzzed the rev limiter hard,” Wilson said, “and a lap-and-a-half later, his engine let go. Now, just to be clear, our stuff should be durable enough. It should be tough enough to handle that.
“At Bristol, NASCAR miscalculated the gear ratio. It was too short. When Kyle, particularly when he was running that upper groove in fifth gear, he was hitting the rev limiter, almost every lap. The fact is that right now we just don’t have enough durability margin in our valve train. That’s on us.”
Wilson also noted there have been engine failures with each of the other manufacturers this season.
“It’s not the car per se, but it’s some of the components,” Wilson said. “It’s running a five-speed gearbox with closer gear ratios that require drivers to shift. Shifting puts more of a load across our engines. On top of that, NASCAR has lowered their mandated rev limiter from 9700, down to 9200 RPMs. We’re operating in a power band (where) the target is really to run about 8500 rpm.
“But because of the gear ratios, because of the five speed, we’re getting to the rev limiter much more often this year than we ever did in the past.”
“Arguably, I would venture to say, were we running the same package as last season, we would see none of this. We’ve just not experienced this. We’ve uncovered a weakness in our valve train.”
Wilson denied that Busch received weaker engines in the playoffs because Busch will leave Joe Gibbs Racing after this season for Richard Childress Racing and Chevrolet.
“I’ll say that it is offensive as a professional and somebody who takes their responsibility as greatly as I do,” Wilson said of such conjecture about Busch’s engines. “And I’ll say for those fans who are actually ignorant enough to suggest that this is some sort of a mastermind conspiracy to rid ourselves of Kyle Busch early, I would simply say go back to trying to find the edge of the flat earth. It’s absurd.”
Wilson said he and Busch talked after Busch decided to sign with Richard Childress Racing and focused on the rest of this season.
“We both underscored our intent to have a mic drop moment in Phoenix, in he’s going to win his third championship and he’s going to take that championship with him,” Wilson said. “Obviously, for Toyota, losing Kyle in a run through a championship is a massive setback. Kyle Busch is money in the playoffs. … By losing him, we take a big hit. There’s zero upside. There’s zero upside. It’s just a crushing blow to our organization
“There’s nothing I can do. I’ve apologized to Kyle. I’ve apologized to (Joe) Gibbs. This is on us and hated that we let them down.”
As for the power steering issues at Bristol that a number of teams had, including Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing, Wilson said:
“This new car and all of the new systems that we’re dealing with, have relatively very few reps on them. This is the first time we’ve raced at Bristol, a very tight half-mile on concrete. In a relative sense, I’m assuming we’ve put more load into that steering rack, in that power steering system, than at any other place. It was just too much. We were all freaking out as this was happening, because I think the (power steering issues for Ty Gibbs, Martin Truex Jr. and Bubba Wallace) all happened within 20 laps of each other. That’s just incredible.
“I know, at least two or three of those cars literally blew out the seals in the (steering) rack, which happened from too much pressure. So I don’t know what remediation opportunity there is from a team perspective.
“Even when it hasn’t resulted in a terminal issue, I know, almost every week, the drivers, to varying degrees and varying race tracks, have been unhappy with their steering.
“There’s no question that NASCAR and the teams are looking at (it). … We need to fix this moving forward.”
After facing the various challenges in the first round of the playoffs, Wilson said he concluded a team meeting Tuesday by telling the TRD employees that “the measure of this team isn’t defined by moments of comfort and success, it’s defined and how we respond in moments of stress and failure.”