Rivals should stop whining about Toyota's success
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At the risk of seeming hopelessly na´ve (which, admittedly, is not that much of a stretch), I'm going to come right out and admit that I just don't get the all the recent hubbub over the engine program at Toyota -- an intra-garage squabble about horsepower that's already precipitated one rule change by NASCAR and could be on the verge of forcing another.
As Richard Petty likes to say, here's the deal: the Japanese manufacturer has been nothing short of dominant so far this season, reaching Victory Lane in six of 13 Craftsmen Truck Series races, in eight of 19 Sprint Cup Series races and, most astonishingly, in 14 of 21 races (including eight in a row at one point) in the Nationwide Series. Apparently, this has nothing to do with being, you know, better than everybody else, and everything to do with Toyota's powerful engines providing some sort of unfair advantage in the form of -- get ready -- more horsepower. (Ooh!)
Predictably, there have been complaints, especially at the Nationwide level. Drivers including Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards have spoken out about the disparity, as has team owner Jack Roush.
And so NASCAR lumbered in, knocking over side tables and breaking glassware in an attempt to rectify the situation. The organization recently modified a Nationwide-Series rule governing the technical specs for engines that will force the Toyotas to dial things down a notch. Says NASCAR VP of competition Robin Pemberton, "Eventually, all teams that upgrade to new engine packages will be subject to this rule modification."
I wonder: Is there any part of its canon that NASCAR won't change to make the racing it puts on the track conform to its idea of how things should be going?
Nobody has said anything about such a change being made to Cup competition, where Kyle Busch has won a series-best seven races in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, but that would only seem to be because JGR is the manufacturer's sole big-time operation. If, for whatever reason, Team Red Bull gets hot, watch out.
Still, I'm confused. Isn't the whole point of racing cars to be, uh, faster than the other guy? NASCAR already regulates just about everything related to the construction and outward appearance of its cars' chassis. And even though such strict rules have put the sport in a generic box -- the days of the Pontiac Superbird are gone forever, alas -- I understand the reason. NASCAR, with its blue-collar roots, has a vested interest in keeping its style of racing from becoming a playground for wealthy superteams. It has to be able to level the playing field.
But for pete's sake, the engines were legal! NASCAR had to change a rule to make them otherwise. Has this really fixed things? After all, those teams that run cars made by Chevy, Dodge and Ford would now seem to have an unfair advantage on the teams running Toyotas. Wouldn't they?
There is something about messing with what's under the hood that smacks of poor sportsmanship. For more than a year, NASCAR's teams have been bracing themselves for Toyota -- the world's biggest auto manufacturer, and NASCAR's first foreign invader -- to dominate. And now that the day has arrived, I find myself gobsmacked that everybody's first response wasn't to knuckle down and beat those so-and-sos. Instead, everybody responded by griping. For a sport that prides itself on being red, white and blue, through and through, that just seems un-American.
How to Drive
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
J.J. Yeley talks about Indy's unique layout: "I don't know that you can break down all four turns as different from each other, but the ends of the race track are completely different. Turns One and Two race a lot tighter than Turn Three and Four. If you look at the track from the air, the turns all look identical and they seem to race the same way. But there just seems to be a lot more room in turns Three and Four. Racing at Indy is difficult and it's going to be very interesting to see how the new cars perform there. It used to be pretty hard to pass with the old cars -- just the struggles you had with tires and grip, you take a lot of that away with the new car. The new cars just don't have as much grip as the old cars. So I think lap times will be down from what they were in the past and maybe it's good. Maybe it will make the race more exciting. I think it will be interesting, regardless."
6: Number of seasons in which the winner at Indy also went on to win the Cup title
4: Wins at Indy by Jeff Gordon (out of 14 starts), the most of any driver
3: Poles won at Indy by Gordon, the most of any driver
8: Top-five finishes at Indy by Gordon, the most of any driver
11: Top-10 finishes at Indy by Gordon, the most of any driver
August 5, 2001: Eventual Cup champion Jeff Gordon holds off Sterling Marlin to win the eighth running of the Brickyard 400. It is the fourth straight year that the driver who won at Indy went on to win the championship.