Mating dance (cont.)
Posted: Friday June 1, 2007 12:28PM; Updated: Friday June 1, 2007 6:00PM
While Toyota's interest is obvious why would Gibbs be interested in Toyota?
For one, Toyota would likely offer $25 million per year to Gibbs to run a four-car team, just more than $6 million per car. It also would provide the seed money for Gibbs' fourth car and fortify the budget on the No. 18 of J.J.Yeley, which is underfunded. How many new $25 million dollar sponsors are out there?
Even with the outlay of cash, Toyota would come out ahead on the deal. The obvious assets are Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin, championship-quality drivers. The hidden asset is Gibbs' outstanding engine department, headed by Mark Cronquist. The Toyota engine has competitive top-end power, but its middle-range drivability is suspect. It's said to be 40 horsepower down at certain places in the power band. Cronquist and his group have the skill to fix that problem relatively quickly.
Gibbs also will start next season with three drivers in the top 35 in the points, guaranteeing Toyota positions in the field each week. Stewart, Hamlin and Yeley have the talent to get into races on their own, but for Toyota, it would be a nice fail-safe position.
Breaking free of Chevy won't be easy for Gibbs. Chevrolet has tightly and well-written contracts, a legacy of former racing head Herb Fishel, and that would be a drawback for Gibbs should it decide to switch to Toyota. Unless Chevrolet released Gibbs, the team wouldn't be able to start testing until after Jan. 1. It's a deterrent to leaving, but the deep Gibbs' team, with 21 engineers and that engine shop, would be confident of overcoming a slightly late start.
The unknown factor for Toyota is Dale Earnhardt Jr. If Earnhardt decides to sign with Gibbs -- which would entail leaving Budweiser behind and aligning with a new sponsor -- before the non-negotiating period is over, Toyota would be frozen out. Earnhardt has said he'll only drive for Chevrolet. Earnhardt's marketability is awesome and he'd become the fourth driver at Gibbs and bring a financial package worth at least what Toyota is expected to offer.
But what happens if Earnhardt hasn't decided and Toyota walks in with that big checkbook and sets a deadline? Does Gibbs take a chance on waiting for Earnhardt and lose Toyota and perhaps end up with neither?
Toyota might also be willing to wait. It isn't interested in signing just any team. Toyota has those already. It needs teams that can win races immediately, and who else but Gibbs fits that description and is available? Ginn, maybe, depending upon who its drivers are next season.
Gibbs with Toyota next season? It sounds crazy. But history has a habit of repeating itself and Toyota has shown it can be awfully convincing. It's not afraid to raise the stakes.
Evernham moves toward deal with Gillette
Ray Evernham has signed a letter of intent to sell Evernham Motorsports to George Gillette, sources say. Gillette is going through the due diligence process, which should take 60 to 90 days.
Gillette, who also owns the NHL's Montreal Canadiens and Liverpool of the English Premier Soccer League, would become majority owner if the agreement is finalized. Evernham would remain to run the team under a management contract.