Toyota: Looking for win
“A year ago, we were scrambling because we had the old generation car and the new generation car,” he explained. “We couldn’t have chosen a tougher year to start this project.
“And we had to build a new engine and that takes time to get it right.”
Another key, of course, is stealing away JGR, owner of three of the last seven Cup titles, with two-time champion Tony Stewart and rising stars Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch as its current drivers.
Stewart finished second behind the Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in last Saturday night’s 70-lap exhibition race, the first event of the season. It appeared he could easily have won with a little more drafting help.
Jeff Burton, who drives a Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, said he isn’t surprised by Toyota’s showing thus far.
“All the focus on Toyota has been with adding Gibbs, but I believe the other teams are stronger too,” Burton said. “You know Toyota came in and increased the car count, made it tougher for everybody including themselves.
“Every team has had to respond to that and every team has had to be stronger to that. If you look back on it, I’m not sure there was a Toyota team at any point that was really locked into the races (in qualifying), so they had to pretty much earn their way in every week. I think that we will see some of those teams reverse that course this year.”
With Waltrip already on the front row and teammate David Reutimann and Blaney, the fourth and fifth fastest drivers last Sunday, assured of being in the lineup for the 500, everyone has taken notice of Toyota.
Rick Hendrick, owner of the powerful Hendrick Motorsports team that includes Earnhardt, pole-winner and two-time reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time champion Jeff Gordon and Casey Mears, is also expecting Toyota to be tough in the 500, as well as serious contenders for the rest of the season.
“These Toyotas are awfully fast,” Hendrick said.
“I predict this will be one of the best years we have had in NASCAR, with a lot of different winners and a very competitive season.”