After disastrous start, Toyota making inroads at Daytona
One year later, Toyota in the hunt for its first Cup victory
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.