Toyota’s racing boss Lee White isn’t very happy with NASCAR over last week’s Nationwide engine rules change (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
By Mike Mulhern
Just minutes before the Indy start Sunday, Toyota’s Lee White was standing at the vast bay window overlooking pit road from four-stories up and the frontstretch of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in the warm summer sunshine that would soon coat a scene of chaos.
But was he worried about the looming tire disaster in one of this sport’s biggest events?
Nope. That was out of his hands, of course.
What he was jawing about was something quite different – NASCAR’s newest rules change (in a season of virtually none) that is aimed at slowing the Toyota charge on the Saturday Nationwide tour, which the marque he now heads is dominating.
But then dominating isn’t quite the word. Crushing might be more appropriate: Toyota has won 15 of the year’s 22 Nationwide races, in an awesome display of prowess. “Hard work,” as White would describe it. “More horsepower,” as his beleaguered rivals would complain.
Now perhaps, in this day of $4 gas, NASCAR executives might want to consider addressing the PR issue of ‘gas-guzzling’ engines, which get about five miles per gallon. It’s even been suggest in some quarters that NASCAR might want to start worrying about mpg as much as mph and hp, perhaps even set a goal of, say, 12 mpg for these engines for 2010. Why not? In fact, Ford’s Jack Roush isn’t the only guy to question why NASCAR keeps letting manufacturers increase engine power, rather than decrease it. Maybe if drivers went into the first turn at Indy at 190 mph instead of 210 mph they might put on a better show….and Goodyear might not have such a tough time building tires for these 3400-pound creatures.
But that’s another story….
Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve will be the next NASCAR Nationwide showdown, Saturday afternoon August 2, and Toyota will be 15 horsepower down (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)
NASCAR, after hearing complaints for weeks about Toyota’s horsepower edge on the Saturday tour (where it is allowed to run its Sunday Sprint Cup engine design, while Chevrolet has so far been forced to run its venerable SB2 design instead of the Cup R07), put Chicago engines on the dyno two weeks ago to check those allegation.
And then NASCAR made a change to cut air into the Toyota engines, which Kyle Busch says probably cost him about 15 horsepower. NASCAR’s Robin Pemberton (who in the last few weeks has taken an increasingly higher profile in the sport) said that was to balance the competition.
Now if Chevrolet were running its R07, it too would have been subjected to that rules change. Indeed, Chevrolet is now repeating its call on NASCAR to let it run the R07 on the Nationwide series.
On top of that, Busch had just won Saturday night’s race cross-town at O’Reilly Raceway Park – and in victory thanked his rivals for firing him up.
That was Busch’s 15th major NASCAR win of the season (six in Cup, seven in Nationwide, two in Truck).
So what in the world could White be complaining about?
Toyota’s Tony Stewart has five Nationwide tour wins, and Toyota men have won 15 of the year’s 22 races (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
Well, let’s hear him out. After all, he’s the new Toyota racing boss, and this is his first major point to make since getting those role on point:
“All these ululaters – that’s Latin for howling, whining, crying –
“I’m not complaining. I’m upset. They penalized us from best to worst.
“The far-reached effect of this is on the race teams. And I have seen two letters to Toyota teams from potential sponsors who have said they are questioning being involved with our teams now. Because sponsors come to win, and now that’s not okay to run up front in a Toyota now, that’s what this message is.
Despite NASCAR’s engine cut, Kyle Busch still won last weekend’s Nationwide stop…and praised his rivals for firing him up
(Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
“The reaction nation-wide is that ‘NASCAR is picking on Toyota.’ We couldn’t have bought better ads.
“So maybe they’ll have to go get a Chevy engine deal and some decals, because apparently that’s okay.”
NASCAR’s Robin Pemberton described the new rule this way: “Eventually all teams that upgrade to new engine packages will be subject to this rule modification.
“Over the years in our sport, we’ve taken steps on numerous occasions to help maintain a level playing field among our competitors and we will continue to do so.”
White says the engine setback is only firing up his men: “We’re going to put our heads down and keep working.
“Kyle Busch winning Saturday night, that’s not us, that doesn’t count. That’s Kyle Busch. Give him a little credit, and Jason Ratcliffe (his engine man). Give Dave Rogers (the crew chief) a lot of credit.
“Take Dave Rogers’ car out of the equation and how many wins would we have: five. And life would be good, wouldn’t it.
Kyle Busch has 15 NASCAR wins this season, and the season is barely half over (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
“But Dave has some unbelievable mojo, to be able to work and win with four different drivers. That’s the most amazing thing I’ve seen in my 40 years in racing.
“But this engine rule will affect us at every mid-size track.
“Joe Gibbs has a couple of Chevy SB2 engines left, and in a couple of weeks we may lay those dyno sheets up for review.
“Let me make one thing clear. We are not claiming discrimination.
“One car – with an engine built by John Dysinger (for driver David Reutimann) – that is fourth in the points and hasn’t won a race, yes had the most horsepower.
“The second-place and third-place cars – Fords – were right at the top, only four or five (horsepower) down. And Ford has the tightest bore-center and thus, by this ruling, should be the worst.
“Fourth-place was Kyle Busch; next was Richard Childress….
“So the guys crying the loudest are getting the job done in the points.
Can NASCAR stop Toyota’s rampage? Check in Saturday afternoon in Montreal…and Sunday afternoon in Pocono. At least Kyle Busch’s rivals won’t have to worry about him Saturday…he’ll be focusing on Pocono, while teammate Joey Logano (here at Indy last Saturday) runs Dave Rogers’ car (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
“But we knew we’d be saddled with this at some point in time. We knew we’d have to pay our dues. And, frankly, after 40 years in the business I know that the only thing worse than not winning is winning too much.
“But now look – two years ago Childress won 21 of 35 Nationwide races…and that was okay. And last year Rick Hendrick won half the Cup races, and Chevrolet won 26 of 36. So it’s pretty hard for me to say that this is because we’ve won too much, given this history. It doesn’t compute.
“So all you can say is we’ve won too much too soon.”
However isn’t the real situation NASCAR is dealing with here the fact that it can’t okay Chevrolet’s R07 unless Jack Roush also gets a new engine…and Roush says Ford doesn’t have the money to waste on a new engine?
“Jack told me over Christmas that he does have a new engine (ready to be submitted to NASCAR), and that it’s modeled on ours,” White says. “I’m sure he’d love to get it in here…but economics are a challenge. Especially to Jack since he’s the only Ford guy, and he would have to throw away engines and engine parts for seven teams. I’d say that would cost him $12 million to $13 million. Someone’s got to pay for that, and I can’t see Ford writing Jack a check for that.
“So I don’t blame Jack Roush for this; the whining, the ululating, is over on the Chevrolet side.
“But now Jack put out a little statement, saying ‘It’s all about hard work, and his people work harder than ours on any given day,’ and ‘I want to shake the hand of the man who’s working harder than me.’
“Well, I’ve got a list of 100 people who are ready to show up at Fontana and stand in line to shake his hand, because they all think they’re working harder than he is. Our guys work so much harder than Jack Roush’s that it’s criminal.”
Fontana, the tour’s Los Angeles stop, is near Toyota’s West Coast headquarters.
“There is zero reason now for Chevrolet to want to run the R07 on the Nationwide tour,” White says.
“We were mandated to bring this engine into Nationwide. We were told ‘this is the menu you have to meet,’ not a plus or minus. And our engine is exactly to their specs.
“I think Chevrolet now should have to run the R07; it should be mandated.
Kyle Busch, like most NASCAR men, didn’t fare well at the Brickyard (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
“This rule change is unprecedented on the engine side.
“They have never penalized one engine maker over another.”
And then White paused and looked at the bay window at the disaster about to unfold: “But thank goodness for tires…..this thing is old news now.”
Well, until Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Nationwide race at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve….
Agree? Disagree? Don’t just brood. Express yourself here, and make your voice heard clearly in NASCAR headquarters in Daytona and Charlotte and in NASCAR race shops throughout North Carolina and the rest of the country.
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The NASCAR Nationwide transporters at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)