News & Media


Menzer: JGR, MWR sharing information a plus for both teams

February 13, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

With EFI now in the equation, Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing will share more than the draft. (Autostock)

JGR loosens up practices, begins a working relationship with MWR

Toyota Racing Development president Lee White could not help smiling as he witnessed a recent group meeting unfold at the TRD facility in Salisbury, N.C.

As White scanned the room, he saw engineers and various officials from TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing mingled together, along with a sprinkling of others from race teams such as JTG Daugherty Racing, which also fields a Toyota car. But mostly what caught White's trained and experienced eyes was the interaction taking place between Toyota's biggest NASCAR race organizations in JGR and MWR.

"It's taken a little while for Michael [Waltrip] to get his organization to the level where it was worth Joe's time to have his guys even go over there and look at what they have."

--LEE WHITE

"For the very first time we had a EFI [Electronic Fuel Injection] 101 meeting at our facility in Salisbury -- and there were about 40 participants," White said. "There were 10 or 12 from Gibbs; another 10 or 12 from Waltrip; and 15 to 20 from TRD -- both from our engine facility in California and locally based. We spent four hours talking about EFI as a tool and how to use it to of course get the most power out of the engine, but also there are 200 channels of data there. How do you get it in the hands of the crew chiefs and the engineers so they can use it the best?

"Frankly, those four hours demonstrated to me that we're seeing the dawn of a new era in the relationship between Joe Gibbs Racing, TRD and Michael Waltrip Racing -- particularly since Michael Waltrip Racing has now upgraded by adding Scott Miller [as executive vice president of competition] and [Sprint Cup drivers] Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin."

It's something White has been pushing to have happen for some time.

"You're going to see those organizations feeding off each other a whole lot more, and really working together on the whole-car concept with TRD as a link -- which is what we've tried to be the past three or four years," White said. "But there were elements on the engine side that made that really difficult."

Why now?

In the past, JGR in particular balked at working too closely with MWR or other Toyota teams on much of anything. J.D. Gibbs, president of JGR, candidly admits that he and his father, Joe, weren't sure sharing was the best policy.

Several factors have played a role in changing their minds.

First, there is Hendrick Motorsports and the success it has had in Chevrolets. Not only does Hendrick field four teams of its own -- the maximum permitted by NASCAR -- but it also has a tight technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing and the two cars fielded by SHR. Furthermore, Hendrick leases engines and other pieces and parts to Phoenix Racing, oftentimes encouraging owner James Finch to more or less serve as a research and development arm when HMS wants to test something under race conditions without putting its own teams in harm's way.

Same with Roush Fenway Racing, which shrank from four Sprint Cup teams to three this season but still shares information rather freely with Richard Petty Racing, Wood Brothers Racing and even Front Row Motorsports. All of them field Fords.

Then there were some reliability issues with JGR engines that have cost drivers Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin dearly in recent years. You can't win the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship if your engines are faulty during the final 10-race push of a season.

And finally, there was the matter already touched on by White. By adding the experienced mind of Miller in the shop and the experience and talent of Bowyer and Martin behind the wheel, MWR is more relevant now than at any previous time in the organization's existence.

"It's taken a little while for Michael to get his organization to the level where it was worth Joe's time to have his guys even go over there and look at what they have," White said bluntly.

Remember, too, that JGR has been running Toyotas only since 2008 and came from the background where it definitely didn't do any sharing with Hendrick or Richard Childress Racing when all of them were running Chevrolets. So it has taken a different mindset and it started with JGR doing smaller projects with MWR before jumping in full throttle for this season.

New era


Electronic fuel injection will make its NASCAR debut at Daytona. Mark Aumann gives an in-depth look at how the new EFI will work and what changes it brings to the sport.

"That started like a year and a half ago," J.D. Gibbs said. "It starts with a project here and a project there. After a while, you've got a lot of projects you're all kind of working on together. And it's valuable. It's valuable from a resource standpoint -- and they've added some really good guys at their shop. So when you pick all those brains, it's going to make you stronger.

"They definitely have some real areas they've worked on, and we've got some areas we've worked on. And you can't go in there and say, 'We're going to share everything.' But as you go through it and you work on some of these projects, you can see where sharing a good bit of it just makes sense."

The simple facts

The fact Cup cars were going to fuel-injected engines this year also played a role, making it seem to be the perfect time to start sharing more information between Toyota teams. Having used fuel injection in other racing series, TRD had plenty of information to lay on the doorsteps of all the race teams it supports in the stock-car series.

"We were just starting to understand carburetors when they decided to make the switch," White said. "We have 30-plus years of experience in fuel injection."

But the durability issue, or lack thereof, was perhaps the biggest driving factor in pushing this Toyota collaborative effort forward as far as Joe Gibbs was concerned.

"We didn't have to sell them on it. Joe came to us and asked us to do it," White said. "That was mid-summer last year."

That was after engine failures took two JGR cars out of a race at Michigan. For the remainder of 2011, Hamlin's No. 11 Toytoa got its engines not from the JGR engine shop, but from TRD. Busch's No. 18 Toyota also used a TRD engine in the final race of the season at Homestead.

"Obviously last year during the year, we had some durability issues," the elder Gibbs said. "And I think Toyota had moved to a point where they had established a very extensive durability process that they went through. It's one of those things where I think we're now going to really capitalize, being with them on the motor package."

They'll also be with TRD and MWR on a number of other information-sharing aspects as this season progresses. White, for one, can't wait to see how it all turns out.

"It's going to be fun to watch," he said.

He smiled again as he said it, leading even objective observers to wonder if he's not just hopeful of that from the Toyota standpoint, but fairly certain.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.