Toyota Racing Development has been in the NASCAR news cycle quite a bit in recent weeks.
Carl Edwards won his first race with the manufacturer last month at Charlotte Motor Speedway while Ross Kenseth and Christopher Bell will make their highly-anticipated debuts over the weekend at Iowa and Chicagoland respectively.
David Wilson is the president and general manager of TRD and has been with the OEM since 1989. He is responsible for all of its activities in North American, including engine development, manufacturing and chassis designs for its teams participating in NASCAR, USAC, NHRA and Sports Car racing.
Popular Speed spoke with Wilson on Wednesday to discuss several evolving aspects of TRD.
A story came out last weekend that you were interested in having Furniture Row Racing join Toyota next season. Ford said they weren’t interested in acquiring additional teams at the moment, so what makes this a good time for Toyota to entertain the notions of expansion?
I would start by saying that the NASCAR community is really small. You’re constantly working alongside many different teams and the other manufacturers. We have relationships within every team in the garage and not necessarily just our Toyota teams. I really got to know the guys at Furniture Row Racing right before Martin (Truex Jr.) signed on there. We had actually made the recommendation to them about Martin when we first learned that Kurt Busch was going to leave for Stewart Hass and Martin was looking for a ride.
You get to know all the players in the sport when you spend any amount of time in the garage so I have a tremendous amount of respect for (Furniture Row owner) Barney Visser and (general manager) Joe Garone.
So in that interview, I was asked “would you be interested in Furniture Row Racing?” And of course I would. Who wouldn’t? I would definitely be interested. If you look at the current format for the Chase for the Championship, with a 16-car field, we want to find a way to get as many of our cars in that playoff as possible.
As an OEM heading into the Chase, our stated goal at the start of the season was placing four of our six drivers into the bracket. That was admittedly an aggressive target but then Kyle (Busch) got hurt and (Brian) Vickers had his issue so then we’re potentially looking at trying to get the remaining four into the field of 16.
As a manufacturer, I would love to have five or six cars in the Chase — all three manufacturers would. We would also like to have two of the four going into championship weekend at Homestead. So this is a matter of frontloading our odds.
So in short, this is timing and circumstance. I would love to have them be a part of Toyota but they are taking their time to decide what they want to do. Because, if I’m standing in their shoes, why would I consider the change? They are on a fantastic run right now. But all in all, this is about quality numbers as opposed to overall number of teams and adding Furniture Row would be a way to raise the tide for all of our ships (referencing Michael Waltrip Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing).
Now speaking of raising the tide for all your ships, there seemed to be a lot of infighting between Michael Waltrip Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing at the end last season that carried into the NASCAR Media Tour in January. Both sides felt like the other wasn’t doing their part to share information or work together as Toyota teammates. Is there anything that you’ve been able to do to facilitate conversation between the two teams?
You said the word yourself right there. It’s about facilitating communication. We would prefer our partner teams work together and share resources. We would like for that to happen and we try to facilitate that.
With that said, we’re not going to force it. We would prefer the communication be organic or it’s not going to work as well.
But if both of our partners feel they aren’t in a position to be effective and successful, that’s when we would come in and bridge the gap. We actually get our teams together quite a bit at our TRD shop in Salisbury (North Carolina) where we get them to work together on one aspect of the program — aero or engines and contribute equally. Those are pretty effective.
But at the end of the day, it’s an imperfect thing. Ford has the same challenges with Penske and Roush so it’s not just a TRD issue but we continue to work at it. On the whole, our teams see any success that the other team has as something good for Toyota as a whole and that’s where it starts.
NASCAR officially unveiled the Kentucky Package on Tuesday. Even for just a single race, this is going to be quite the challenge for everyone involved in the sport. Do you like the direction NASCAR is going with the competition package and it Toyota up to the challenge of solving it?
I’ll start by saying we are encouraged by the approach NASCAR has taken with the Kentucky Package. This is an example of NASCAR showing its fans and its stakeholders that we are always trying to improve the sport. The racing product is good but it can always be better.
Just to be clear, NASCAR didn’t just throw something totally new at us. All of the stakeholders — from the tracks, to the teams, to the OEMs — were a part of the decision. We provided NASCAR data and simulation as part of their due diligence and we were very involved with that process.
It was rewarding to work with NASCAR and the other manufacturers as partners on this package. That’s where we stand.
As for how competitive we might be at Kentucky, I’m cautiously optimistic. Simulations are helpful and the testing will be helpful. But the truth is that none of us, even NASCAR, are going to know how this works out until we get 43 cars out on the track at the same time and race this package. Make no mistake, we are working, just like the other manufacturers, feverishly during the off-week to rebound and learn as much as we can. We want to unload with something that is close to where we need it to be in order to win.
This was a bold move by NASCAR but they are not standing on the ledge by themselves. We’re all standing beside them. These are the rules they put forth, we’re with them, and it’s go-time.
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