Toyota: Focused on '15 but planning for '16
July 28, 2015, Staff report, NASCAR.com
With four victories in the last five races, thanks to Kyle Busch, and Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates also holding wins that practically put them into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Toyota is on a roll. David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Tuesday that the manufacturer has its sights set on more teams making the 2015 Chase while also looking ahead to its 2016 lineup.
Wilson compared Toyota's comeback to JGR's own, saying the seeds for 2015 success were sown during one of its worst seasons since joining the Sprint Cup Series in 2007.
"2014 was one of our worst years since we came into the sport, into the Sprint Cup Series and certainly one of Joe Gibbs Racing's worst years," Wilson said. "But we started that turnaround last summer literally. That was when we got the big wake-up call. We just missed it on this no ride-height rule. Our engines were a little bit off, and we buckled down.
"Really the turnaround started, I trace it to Chicago of last year, almost a full year ago where our performance gradually started getting better. We were able to get the three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers into the Chase. Denny nearly won the championship at Miami, but that was, to be fair, more to do with the format of the Chase."
Last Sunday, the manufacturer earned its first Brickyard 400 win, the last of the 23 premier series circuits where it hadn't won a race. Rather than resting on its laurels, Toyota is looking to add more cars to NASCAR's playoffs. If Busch moves into the top 30 in points, a quarter of the field will be driving Camrys, but Wilson is shooting for closer to half of the 16 drivers.
"I've said as one of three manufacturers that statistically we need to load that funnel at Chicago, arguably with five, six, seven Toyotas," Wilson.
Michael Waltrip Racing with Clint Bowyer's No. 15 team and David Ragan's No. 55 are the manufacturer's two highest-ranked drivers without wins, sitting 15th and 24th respectively in the standings. Based on points, the No. 15 driver is currently in the provisional Chase Grid, but if Busch makes the top 30, Bowyer will be bounced without a win.
As the manufacturer attempts to add those MWR teams to this year's Chase, Wilson wasn't certain about the organization's future with Toyota.
"We are talking to a number of organizations about the future, and certainly in the near-term, we're not sure what Michael Waltrip Racing is going to do," Wilson said. "They've yet to announce their plans. Certainly we have had a rich history in the sport together. We got our butts kicked together in 2007, our first year, and you forge very close and personal relationships when you have those trials together.
"Whatever they decide to do, we certainly wish nothing but the best for them."
Wilson has acknowledged discussions with Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser about the Denver-based team's potential manufacturer move from Chevrolet to Toyota. But the TRD president suggested that Furniture Row, like Toyota itself, was focused on its 2015 Chase efforts.
"Regarding Furniture Row Racing, again they haven't announced their plans for next year certainly," Wilson said. "I imagine they're focusing on getting Martin Truex well-positioned in the Chase as well and competitive."