Af­ter dis­as­trous start, Toy­ota mak­ing in­roads at Day­tona

One year later, Toy­ota in the hunt for its first Cup vic­tory

The Covington News - - Sports - By Mike Har­ris

DAY­TONA BEACH, Fla. — Mo­ments af­ter pole qual­i­fy­ing for the Day­tona 500 ended, Toy­ota of­fi­cial Lee White was asked how he felt about the Ja­panese au­tomaker’s re­sults that day.

“Dis­ap­pointed,” replied White, se­nior vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager of Toy­ota Rac­ing De­vel­op­ment.

In the wake of Toy­ota plac- ing three of its NASCAR Sprint Cup Cam­rys in the top five on last Sun­day’s speed chart, in­clud­ing Michael Wal­trip lock­ing up the out­side front row po­si­tion for Sun­day’s 50th run­ning of “The Great Amer­i­can Race,” that one word speaks vol­umes.

A year ago, Toy­ota moved up to what was then known as the Nex­tel Cup se­ries and took its lumps.

Ar­riv­ing at Day­tona with the mid­dle-of-the-pack Bill Davis Rac­ing team and the brand new Michael Wal­trip Rac­ing and Team Red Bull op­er­a­tions, lit­tle was ex­pected of the new brand. And lit­tle was pro­duced.

Only four of eight Toy­otas en­tered made the sea­son-open­ing race.

Wal­trip — af­ter em­bar­rass­ing Toy­ota ear­lier in the week with a cheat­ing scan­dal in­volv­ing an il­le­gal fuel ad­di­tive — was the top Camry qual­i­fier, earn­ing a 15th-place start by rac­ing his way into the big event in one of the 150-mile qual­i­fy­ing races.

Team­mate Dale Jar­rett, who got into the race on the se­ries cham­pion’s pro­vi­sional, was the top Toy­ota fin­isher at 22nd.

None of the Camry quar­tet was ever a real con­tender in the 500-mile race.

As the sea­son moved on, progress for the Toy­ota teams was ag­o­niz­ingly slow. They strug­gled just to qual­ify for races.

BDR’s Blaney gave the man­u­fac­turer its one and only pole last sum­mer at New Hamp­shire, while the third-place fin­ish by Red Bull’s Brian Vick­ers last fall at Tal­ladega was the best for a Toy­ota.

A year later, af­ter a lot of hard work and the ac­qui­si­tion of the pow­er­house Joe Gibbs Rac­ing team as its mar­quee team, Toy­ota could be in the hunt for its first Cup vic­tory on the sport’s big­gest stage.

TRD pres­i­dent Jim Aust tried to put the sit­u­a­tion in per­spec­tive af­ter the qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion and could hardly stop smil­ing.

Aust said there are a num­ber of rea­sons why Toy­ota en­ters the 2008 sea­son as a se­ri­ous con­tender rather than an af­ter­thought.

A big one is that the Car of To­mor­row is now the only one Cup teams will be us­ing, af­ter split­ting the 2007 sea­son be­tween the old car and the CoT.

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