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.”