Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

A Win-Win-Win Scenario For Leavine, DiBenedetto, And Toyota

On Wednesday, Leavine Family Racing announced that Matt DiBenedetto would be the driver of their No. 95 in 2019.

Also, the team also confirmed they would be switching to Toyota and forming an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing.

These moves are wins for everybody involved.

It’s a victory for LFR, a young team who has yet to make a significant impact in the sport now takes over the spot Furniture Row Racing currently has with Gibbs.

While there is no guarantee that they perform as well as FRR, this is a team that is currently used to qualifying around 25th and finishing around 20th; the opportunity at hand give them to an excellent chance to improve. They will now have the assistance of one of the best organizations in NASCAR and manufacture support from the defending manufacturers’ champion.

On the flip side, the move works well for JGR and Toyota as they will not lose a team at the end of the season despite FRR’s demise.

Besides, if all goes well, the two could have a potential landing spot in Cup for some of their development drivers that are currently rising the ranks of NASCAR. Whereas without LFR and with the four-car limit the sport has in place, they could lose drivers as they have with Noah Gragson, William Byron, and Ryan Preece due to not having enough room. With the No. 95 in their stable, they now have that chance to work with Leavine and possibly create a situation like they had in 2017, where Erik Jones ran full-time in Cup with FRR.

The move is also a win for DiBenedetto, their newly acquired driver.

The 27-year-old who left his home for the last two years in Go Fas Racing simply because of the fact he wanted a chance to prove himself. The move to the No. 95 allows him.

DiBenedetto, who has went from starting and parking to racing in lower-funded rides, now has an opportunity to show everyone that he belongs here.

The California-native showed that his skill when scoring the occasional top-10’s with BK Racing and Go Fas; if he can continue to exceed exactions with his new team, the potential for more success will continue to grow.

With all the changes that are coming in 2019, this may be one that will require the most attention as the season progresses.

Can they see success even close to the bar set by Furniture Row? How much will they improve? All these questions will eventually be answered, but for now, Leavine Family Racing appears to be heading in a positive direction.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Yes, Kyle Busch Won, But Title Race Still Wide Open

Although Kyle Busch’s backstretch pass of Chase Elliott at Dover International Speedway gave the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series its first true Game 7 moment of the 2017 playoffs, it didn’t alter the fundamental balance of power or the championship outlook for that matter.

Coming into the race, we all knew the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing are fast. Guess what? They still are. 

Busch’s victory was the ninth in the last 12 races for the Toyota contingent.

We also knew that the new points system would greatly reward drivers who wracked up playoff points during the regular season.

That didn’t change either as Round 1 wrapped up.

Heading into Round 2 of the playoffs, points leader Martin Truex Jr. has 3059 points, Kyle Busch has 3041 and Kyle Larson has 3034.  To advance to Round 3 of the playoffs, they have to finish Round 2 in the top eight in points. The driver currently ninth in points, Ryan Blaney, has just 3008 points.

With margins that big over ninth place, Truex, Busch and Larson all have a great shot at advancing to first Round 3 and then the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Conversely, the bottom four in points right now — Blaney, Chase Elliott (3006), Matt Kenseth (3005) and Jamie McMurray (3003) will have a hard time getting out of Round 2.

If you believe the top three seeds will advance and the bottom ones won’t, who becomes the fourth driver to contend for the title at Homestead? The most likely prospects are Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, with Denny Hamlin a possibility as well.

So the rest of the season is shaping as a battle among the drivers and teams who have been the best all season, and when you think about it, that’s as it should be.

On to Charlotte now for Round 2, and the intensity should just ratchet up. And it’s still anybody’s championship.

Categories
Commentary

Chevrolet Struggling at Critical Point of Season

The constant fight for supremacy among manufacturers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series proves to be one of the most compelling battles each season.

Chevrolet and Ford seemed to hold an advantage over Toyota when it came to the results column earlier this year. However, the tides have turned as the Playoffs approach.

For the second consecutive race, Chevrolet only placed one car in the top-10 with A.J. Allmendinger finishing ninth in Sunday’s I LOVE NEW YORK 355 at Watkins Glen International.

Now Chevrolet is searching for the speed that Toyota has.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s struggles to begin the season were well documented while Furniture Row Racing’s two car stable showed consistent speed.

Both organizations are now dominating and for the second straight weekend, all six cars placed in the top-10 at Watkins Glen in addition to capturing the top-four positions.

Toyota’s rise highlights concern for Chevrolet. While the manufacturer already has five cars in the post-season with wins, it will take an improved level of performance to compete for back-to-back championships.

Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson carried the banner through the first half of 2017, winning a combined five races and contesting Toyota’s top car of Martin Truex Jr. on a weekly basis.

However, both Larson and Johnson performed poorly in recent months.

In the seven races since Larson’s victory at Michigan in June, he has posted five finishes outside the top-20.

The decline has been worse for Johnson. Following his win at Dover, his best finish has been 10th at Michigan and New Hampshire, and he has placed outside the top-25 five times in nine races.

Both competitors showed championship promise early in the year, but now it will take a significant turnaround to climb back into contention.

With four events remaining before Chicagoland, Chevrolet has time to improve. Michigan and Bristol will be very telling on where the manufacturer stands as bowtie drivers won both spring races.

Showcasing strength will instill confidence heading into the post-season but continuing to struggle over the next month could mean an early exit to the Playoffs.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

EXCLUSIVE: Toyota’s Racing Boss Wants Another Title

Every great racer has a fundamental personality trait at the core of their being:  They are fiercely, unapologetically competitive, craving victory and despising losing.

In NASCAR, that’s the fire that pushes every driver, crew chief and crew member. It’s also what drives the companies that compete in the sport. Just ask David Wilson, the president of TRD, U.S.A. and the leader of Toyota’s racing operations in the United States.

Under Wilson’s leadership, Toyota won its first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver championship with Kyle Busch in 2015, and its first Cup manufacturers’ championship last year. Plus, Toyota has now won all of NASCAR’s major events — the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Coca-Cola 600, Bojangles’ Southern 500 and the Monster Energy All-Star Race.

But it’s not enough.

For real racers, it never is.

In an exclusive interview with POPULAR SPEED, Wilson talked about why winning another championship this year matters so much to him personally and the Toyota operation.

Last year, Toyota went into the Cup playoffs with all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers and Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing in the title hunt. But Truex lost an engine at Talladega and got eliminated from the playoffs.

Worse yet, in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, JGR drivers Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch battled for the title, only to see Edwards crashed out in the final 10 laps, just as it appeared he was about to win his first title.

And the ghost of Homestead 2016 is what has Wilson fired up about Toyota’s chances this year.

“The goal is that second championship,” he told PopularSpeed.com. “And believe me, I’m still upset about the way the championship played out last year. I’m greedy, right? We won all three manufacturers’ championships (Cup, XFINITY, Camping World Truck Series). How can you be upset about last year?  

“But we’re all competitors and we had the two best cars at Homestead and, somehow, we walked away without the driver’s championship and that pisses me off,” said Wilson. “So we want another driver’s championship. I remember how good that felt. And that second championship is a validation of sorts that the first one wasn’t a fluke, that we do have a strong enough organization and repeat. And I want to get that done as soon as possible.”

At the rate things are going, Wilson might not have to wait long.

With 21 of 26 races in the Cup regular season now complete, Toyota driver Truex has a commanding points lead and has 29 playoff points already, which puts him well ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who has 16, and Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson, each of whom has 13 playoff points.

Truex almost certainly will pick up 15 more playoff points for winning the regular season title, which at this point is a formality. With that many playoff points, and those points carrying over from round to round, Truex isn’t guaranteed to make it to the championship round, but it’s close.

After a frustrating first half of the season, when the team inexplicably went winless, JGR has won two of the last three races. So far this season, Truex has led 1,291 laps and Busch has led 1,114. No other driver has led more than 722.

Add it all up, and Toyota is well-positioned to grab a second title.

Asked who offers Toyota’s best chance for a title this year, Wilson said, “Without a doubt it’s the 78 (Truex) and the 18 (Busch). And I could care less which one. … I have to say, I’m delighted with what the 78 has done, I’m happy with where the 18 is. And that really just underscores how strong our performance has been.”

While Wilson is not cocky, he likes where Toyota is as the playoffs near.

“We’re just fine, because — forget about race wins — you just look at laps led. As a manufacturer, we’ve led 50 percent of the laps. You look at segments. We’ve won more segments than any other O.E.M. We’re sitting on poles, we’re winning practices. … Toyota drivers have led the most laps in 13 of the 21 races run so far.”

Wilson hopes that success will translate into a championship in November.

“The common denominator is speed and performance,” he said. “As long as we’re able to continue doing that, then I’m very confident in our chances to compete for another championship.”

Categories
Commentary

6 takeaways from the Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire

NASCAR’s first of two trips to New Hampshire Motor Speedway this year is now history, following Denny Hamlin’s triumph over Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. in the Overton’s 301 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

And as they like to say in New England, it was a wicked piss-ah of a race. It was a huge victory for Hamlin, his first of the year and the first for Joe Gibbs Racing. Now, Hamlin is assured of making it to NASCAR’s playoffs.

Here are six takeaways from the first race of the second half of the Cup season.

It was a Toyotathon

From the drop of the green flag, the Toyota contingent crushed the field. In Stage 1, Martin Truex Jr. led every lap in his Furniture Row Racing Toyota. In Stage 2, Kyle Busch led every green-flag lap in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

In Stage 3, Hamlin started out with the lead in his JGR  Toyota after Busch had a poor pit stop. Soon, it was Truex back out front again, at least until around Lap 220, when a flat right-front tire forced him to pit and hand the lead back to Busch.

Busch’s golden opportunity to win slipped through his fingers on Lap 239, when he was caught speeding on pit road. After pit stops cycled through, Truex was back out front, until Lap 261, when Matt Kenseth passed him.

Finally, after another caution, Matt Kenseth took two tires and got passed by teammate Denny Hamlin for the win with 34 laps to go.  All told, Toyotas led 290 of 301 laps.

Setting the stage

Truex has just crushed this stage racing, winning Stage 1 at New Hampshire. Truex and the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing have been tremendous all year long, and with all the playoff points Truex has now — after New Hampshire, the number is  29 — is going to make him awfully hard to beat come playoff time.

Easier to lose than to win

Kyle Busch’s winless streak is now officially one year long. Busch won the second stage and had a car fast enough to win. Busch’s chances at victory went out the window when he got caught being too fast on pit road twice in a row late in the race.

By the same token, on the last caution Dale Earnhardt Jr. gambled and stayed out, eschewing fresh rubber, while every other lead-lap car pitted. Junior briefly led but dropped like a stone through the field. Nice try, but it didn’t work.

Penske’s problems

Team Penske won three of the first nine races of the season, but since then the team has fallen back in the pack. Brad Keselowski was never a factor at New Hampshire all weekend, while rear suspension issues sent Joey Logano to the garage and another hugely disappointing finish. Now, Logano is facing the very real possibility of missing the playoffs altogether, which would have been unthinkable even a few weeks ago. The fact that Hamlin was a first-time winner this season hurts Logano’s chances all that much more.

Grand Larson-y

Kyle Larson had to start at the back of the grid after his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet flunked post-qualifying inspection on Friday. He went from 39th to 15th in the first 16 laps, which is nothing short of remarkable. By Lap 24, he was all the way up to 11th, advancing to fifth in the first 50 laps. That said, Larson was not available to steal the race from the  dominant Toyotas and had to settle for second place, his seventh of the season. Still, this driver, this car, this team, have it going on.

Seven-time just so-so

Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time Cup champion inexplicably jumped the start, but by the end of Stage 1, he was back up to the top five, although he had nothing for the race-dominating Toyotas and wound up barely cracking the top 10. No matter how I look at the upcoming championship battle, it keeps coming up the same way — Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson are in one class, and everyone else is playing catch-up.

Categories
XFINITY

Bell Shows Promise in XFINITY Series Debut

Christopher Bell has been a rising star in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series since his debut in 2015.

Through 35 career starts, he’s scored 25 top-10 finishes including three victories. He competed for the championship last November at Homestead-Miami Speedway but ultimately finished the season third in the standings. 

Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota recognized the 22-year-old’s potential and put him behind the wheel of the No. 18 car in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for the first time on Saturday.

A test at Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier this month allowed Bell his first chance to climb behind the wheel of a XFINITY Series car and prepare for the Hisense 4K TV 300.

“Having the test was huge,” Bell said. “Being able to get seat time and get a feel for it at the test, I don’t think I was very fast at the test. I knew I didn’t have to be the fastest car at the test, all I needed to do was get a feel for it and get some laps and come here this weekend and show speed.”

The opening laps of Saturday’s event didn’t go as planned as a spin down the frontstretch on Lap 4 put Bell behind early.

“After we got spun out, I was pretty confident that we’ll work our way back up there but every run, I’d have to start tailback and just kick it to about 18th before I stalled out,” Bell said. “I knew it was really good but just needed track position to get up there.”

However, once he earned track position through numerous cautions, Bell worked his way back to the front and came home fourth.

He placed highest among the non-Cup Series drivers in the field and finished better than two seasoned premiere level veterans, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.

In a race dominated by Cup Series regulars as they have now won the last eight May races at Charlotte, scoring a top-five is an impressive feat.

Bell had competed at Charlotte twice in the Truck Series before Saturday. His first start was postponed from night to a day race, which provided Bell an understanding of how the speedway races under the sun. With the Hisense 4K TV 300 being the lone day event at the track until recently, having run during the day was an invaluable experience and likely gave him a leg-up.

“When Toyota came to me and said they have some XFINITY races, I was pretty excited Charlotte was the first one,” Bell said. “Charlotte was one of my favorite race tracks last year whenever we got to run the truck race in the day.”

Compared to other young competitors in the Toyota camp, Bell’s performance is remarkable. When Daniel Suarez made his series debut in 2014, he finished 19th at Richmond. During Erik Jones’ debut at Chicagoland in 2014, he came home seventh.

Now as Bell looks to follow in the footsteps of both Suarez and Jones who are now competing full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, he will have seven more races behind the wheel for JGR in 2017.

Continuing to run well could pay off for Bell as he eyes his next career step of a full-time XFINITY Series ride.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

Loyalty Only Goes So Far, and Other Manufacture Musings

The 2017 NASCAR season is almost officially underway, and with the new season comes a lot of changes.

Perhaps the biggest change is the manufacturer switch Stewart-Haas Racing made from Chevrolet to Ford in the off-season. For many diehard fans, it will take some getting used to seeing a team which had run Chevrolets change over to Fords.

In what came as a shock when it was announced that Stewart-Haas Racing would be leaving Chevrolet, it shows the role manufacturers play in gaining the slightest competitive edge.

Loyalty only goes so far.

It’s easy to be loyal when things are going well, and the results are showing on the racetrack. But as soon as there is an opportunity to gain an edge under a different banner with a different badge on the front of the car, teams and drivers are hard-pressed to look away.

Just because things have been one way for so long, does not mean they are not subject to change. In recent years, it has been uncommon, though not unheard of to make a manufacturer switch.

Joe Gibbs Racing left Chevrolet after 2007 to head up Toyota’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series efforts 2008. Since the switch, they have garnered one championship with Kyle Busch in 2015.

Team Penske won the Cup title in 2012 with Brad Keselowski in a Dodge, in what was the last year of a Dodge team at the Cup level before they hopped over to Ford beginning in 2013. Team Penske is yet to win a title since making their manufacturer change.

Furniture Row Racing switched from Chevrolet to Toyota beginning in 2016 with Martin Truex Jr., who is now joined by Erik Jones. Since switching to Toyota, Furniture Row Racing has forged a close working relationship with Toyota stablemates, Joe Gibbs Racing, and are now frontrunners nearly every week, though they have yet to win a title.

As much as fans wish their favorite driver would stick to one manufacturer for the duration of their career, it hardly ever happens. In fact, it’s a rarity when a driver remains with one brand.
Even the biggest stars of NASCAR, past and present, who have been linked to one manufacturer, drove for different manufacturers at different points in their respective careers.

Dale Earnhardt’s name is synonymous with Chevrolet, yet he began his career in a Dodge Charger. He even ran two seasons in a Ford Thunderbird in the early ‘80s.

Richard Petty had a majority of his success under the Mopar banner, driving Plymouths and Dodges, but even he was not loyal to one brand his entire career. In fact, like Dale Earnhardt, he raced for all of Michigan’s Big Three automakers. After beginning his career running Mopars, he switched to Ford in 1969, but later he ran for General Motors in a Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Buick, and retired in a Pontiac.

Tony Stewart’s career began in a Pontiac and then Chevrolet when the Pontiac division of General Motors disbanded. In 2008, he ran his lone season in a Toyota before he formed Stewart-Haas Racing running Chevrolets, and now though he is out of the driver’s seat, his team will pilot Fords.

Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth both left Fords at Roush Fenway Racing for the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing.

Among the short list of active drivers who have remained steadfast to one manufacturer are Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who have run their entire Cup careers in Chevrolets. The now-retired Jeff Gordon ran a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in every Cup start he made – but it’s worth noting he ran a Ford in the XFINITY Series prior before joining Hendrick Motorsports at the Cup level.

Hendrick Motorsports has remained faithful to the Chevrolet brand, while Roush Fenway Racing has been with Ford since their inception in 1988. Wood Brothers Racing has had a strong partnership with Ford Motorcraft and have only housed Fords and for a time, Mercury, which falls under the Ford umbrella.

As for Dodge, which NASCAR has been without since 2013, there is hope.

Dodge has been on the record as wanting to throw their hat back into the ring. If Dodge were to rejoin the fray, all three of America’s Big Three automakers would be back on the track, which is exciting to a lot of the sport’s core fans.

Ray Evernham, who helped usher in Dodge’s return to NASCAR in 2001, has been vocal about a potential return to the sport, stating, “Dodge has a long history in the sport and I’m sure they’d like nothing more than to be able to come back and add to that history. I’m hoping it happens.”

As a fan, do you still care who drives what car and manufacturer, or are those days long gone? Let the staff at POPULAR SPEED know your opinion by tweeting @POPULARSPEED. We would love to hear from you and continue the conversation.

Shane Carlson is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL SHANE AT shane.carlson@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @ShaneCarlson4

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

Toyota Unveils New NASCAR Camry

Every race fan has heard the mantra “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday”. This year for Toyota, though, things are going to be a little different.

Rather than selling the next day, the manufacturer will hope to sell the model the following year as Toyota announced its 2018 model Camry will compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season. The racecar, along with the production model, was unveiled on Monday at the North American Auto Show in Detroit.

Ed Laukes, vice president of integrated marketing for Toyota Motor Sales, said the car’s design was crucial for the move to put it on the race track ahead of being available on the market

David Wilson, Toyota Racing Development, President, and General Manager said the car was tested in June with representatives from NASCAR, General Motors, and Ford present.

Toyota went to great lengths to keep the privacy of the project under wraps. Joe Gibbs Racing even installed new windows in its fan viewing area to prevent the work on the new car from being seen.

Wilson said Toyota involved its teams more heavily in the car’s aerodynamic development.

“We had them work with us side by side as we’re designing this because they’ve got very, very smart aerodynamicists,” Wilson said. “So the intent is to hit the ground running at Daytona with being further along than the past two generations” of the Gen 6 car”.

Wilson said NASCAR sets limits on the advances made with increasing downforce while lowering drag but “every time a manufacturer has a shot at building a new car and evolving a new car, you try to work closer and closer to the corner of the lowest drag and highest downforce.”

Laukes added, “Everyone operates within the box on downforce and drag, and as long as you’re operating in that box, it passes the test. So there are always minor tweaks that everyone is doing as far as sheet metal, but it’s still going to operate within that NASCAR-approved box of downforce and drag. I think we’re always looking to try to make things better, but you can’t get radical, because then you’re outside the rules.”

Laukes further went on to say the next step for Toyota would be to develop a new XFINITY Series model.

“The current XFINITY car will live on at least a year, probably two within XFINITY,” Laukes said. “Then we’ll redesign or talk about some other future model to unveil in that time.”

Matt Kenseth will be the first driver behind the wheel of the new Camry as he takes part in a Goodyear tire test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Tuesday.

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Interview with David Wilson, President and GM of Toyota Racing Development

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.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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