Made in the USA?

first_img“Everyone was happy to have four cars in the race, because that was pretty much what we’ve been saying all along,” White said. “Our expectations were to have four and maybe five cars in the race. We were hoping for somebody to turn up in the top 15, and actually, when the wrecks started happening with 25laps to go, we really thought it might work out that way.” Jarrett was the highest finishing Toyota driver at Daytona. He came in 22nd. Waltrip and Dave Blaney, who drives for Bill Davis Racing, were credited with top-35 finishes. “The way it worked out, we didn’t inherit a top-15 finish,” White said. “But we got three in the top 35, so if they can just continue on with that for the next four races, then maybe we can get some guys that will be in those guaranteed positions. We’ll carry on to Fontana … keep on working and we’ll be OK.” But getting NASCAR fans to accept Toyotas in the series is going to be a challenge. It is only one obstacle the car manufacturer faces as it prepares for its first full season in the Nextel Cup Series. There is the question of how Toyota will affect the economics of NASCAR. Toyota is expected to pour record amounts of money into its programs in pursuit of race wins and championships. There is the question of teamwork. Toyota expects its three teams – Bill Davis Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Team Red Bull – to share information and data. And then there’s the big question of acceptance. Toyota may be based in Japan, but the Toyota Camrys are built in Kentucky. At present, they are the only model driven by Cup teams that is actually built in the United States. “But you’re not going to get that across to some people,” Jarrett said. “And I’m not going to try to, and that’s not my job or my plight to come out here and try to convince everybody that this is the right thing to do for Toyota to be involved.” Ready or not, here comes Toyota. It’s a journey that started seven years ago, when Toyota entered in the NASCAR Goody’s Dash Series. By 2004, Toyota was in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. In three years, Toyota Tundras won 26 races, including the season-opener at Daytona, 31 poles and one championship. At the Truck Series level, there hasn’t been much discussion about whether Toyota Tundras belong racing next to Chevrolet Silverados and Ford F-150s. And it didn’t take long for Toyota to become successful. But gaining that level of success will be a little more difficult in the Cup series. “I definitely feel that they are going to be up there fighting for wins and a championship, but it just might take them a little time is all,” said Jimmie Johnson, the 2006 Nextel Cup Series champ and driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Hendrick Motorsports. Some say Toyota can buy its way to wins. Jarrett said Toyota has no illusions about how hard it will be to win races at the Nextel Cup Series level. It will take pouring resources into research and development. It will take having engineers and mechanics with experience building and maintaining Cup cars. And it will take tapping existing teams for some of those experienced people. “When Dodge came in and Ray Evernham started his deal up, he had to go do the same thing,” Jarrett said. “To get experienced people to make sure that things start off in a pretty good mode, you have to go get some experienced people. “You can’t take all novices and rookies and bring them in and expect to be pretty good. So, you might have to pay someone a little bit more to get them to come over.” That’s what Toyota has done – to an extent. Two of the crew chiefs working on Toyota cars this year will be Matt Borland and Doug Richert. Borland was Ryan Newman’s crew chief at Penske Racing South. Richert last worked as crew chief for Greg Biffle’s team at Roush Racing. Richert is also known for working on Dale Earnhardt’s championship teams of the 1980s at Richard Childress Racing. Jarrett insists Toyota didn’t overpay to lure experienced professionals to their teams. Toyota did, however, help bring in some very talented people. “Is Toyota coming in and stepping things up from an engineering standpoint? Absolutely,” Jarrett said. “That’s where they are going to step everything up. Dodge did the same thing when they came in, they had a huge engineering staff and a lot of technology there, and that’s where their dollars were.” Johnson said he expects Toyota to aggressively pursue personnel and resources. “Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, all of these teams have been in the sport for a long, long time,” said Johnson, who drives for Hendrick Motorsports. “They all have money. Mr. (Rick) Hendrick has his finances and program in place. It takes time. You just can’t come in – we know Toyota wants to succeed, and they will spend the dollars to do it – but it takes time to get the people, equipment, the staff put together and get the momentum going.” Jarrett said working with the other two teams was the model Toyota presented to him from the first meeting. “Even before we got here to start testing on the racetrack, that was happening, from other tests at tracks when we were going to Kentucky or we were going to Nashville or even Lakeland (Fla.),” Jarrett said. “And Red Bull was the same way, Bill Davis the same way. So information is being shared, and we feel like that’s our quickest way to get over some of the hurdles that we have.” Apparently the Toyota teams are in agreement that the best way to be successful is to work together as closely as possible in the early stages of the season. “You know, there will come a point in time that some of that will break away,” Jarrett said. “But we have a ways to go before we get to that point, and I think everyone understands that and is very much willing to work together.” With resources, personnel, cooperation and experience, Toyota looks like it has everything in place to produce wins at the race track. How quickly that will happen is anybody’s guess. “I think all of the talk is over,” said Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Richard Childress Racing. “It’s time to finally go race, and we don’t have to hear about (how) Toyota is going to change the sport and how this is going to happen and how that’s going to happen. We’re going to actually see what’s going to happen.” Road to the series Pouring in resources Three for one [email protected] (818) 713-3715 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Dale Jarrett has his doubts that NASCAR fans will readily embrace Toyota in the Nextel Cup Series. The Japanese car manufacturer is making its debut this year in NASCAR’s top division, joining the ranks of American powerhouses Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge. “We could get into the argument about where the Ford Fusion is built. Every one of them are built in Mexico,” Jarrett said. “The Monte Carlos are built in Canada. So we could go through all that stuff and see who is right and who is wrong, but there are a lot of Toyotas that are built in the United States.” International car manufacturers have shied away from racing in NASCAR for more than 50 years. But Toyota has made the long, patient journey to reach the Nextel Cup Series ranks. With three teams and seven drivers, Toyota Camrys will race alongside the Cup versions of Ford Fusions, Chevrolet Monte Carlos and Dodge Chargers. “I think it’s good Toyota is coming in,” said Chip Ganassi, who owns a three-car Cup team powered by Dodge engines. “I have some experience with them in Indy car racing over the years, and they’ll come in and they’ll do it right. They’ll do it in a big way, and the fact of the matter is the sport obviously needs some new interest and new excitement, and I think Toyota is going to provide that.” Four Toyota drivers qualified for the season-opening Daytona 500. Michael Waltrip, owner of a three-car Toyota team, was caught in a cheating scandal that saw him lose his car, his crew chief and 100 driver points. His crew chief was also fined $100,000 and his team lost 100 owner points. Despite the controversy, Lee White, senior vice president and general manager of Toyota Racing Development, U.S.A., said the Toyota teams had a good week at Daytona. center_img Some will say Toyota has no business being in an American stock car series. Some will say NASCAR is an American sport and has no room for foreign influences. Some will say Toyota should stick to racing in other internationally accepted arenas of motor sports, such as Formula One and the American Le Mans Series. Jarrett, who made the switch from Robert Yates Racing’s Fords to Michael Waltrip Racing’s Toyotas, said NASCAR fans need to embrace the change rather than fight it. last_img

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