IT'S HEART, NOT JUST TOOL When Joe Gibbs Racing signed with Toyota in 2007 for the 2008 season it surprised many and left more than a few wondering why the team -- having placed three NASCAR Sprint Cup championship trophies on its mantle over 16...
IT'S HEART, NOT JUST TOOL
When Joe Gibbs Racing signed with Toyota in 2007 for the 2008 season it surprised many and left more than a few wondering why the team -- having placed three NASCAR Sprint Cup championship trophies on its mantle over 16 seasons - would join such a "loser." After all, starting with its embarrassment over Michael Waltrip Racing's mysterious engine intake-manifold substance at the season-opening 2007 Daytona 500, Toyota's debut NASCAR Sprint Cup season was, at best, difficult.
To unsurprised others, the JGR deal signaled TRD's determination to shore up a weak area as the carmaker turned attention toward its sophomore season - still many months down the road.
For JGR - which won its first Cup with Bobby Labonte in 2000 as a Pontiac team but its last with Tony Stewart and Chevrolet in 2005 - its new association likely represented a chance to become the Toyota camp's primary player. Something unlikely to happen at Chevrolet for step-child JGR given the success of Hendrick Motorsports Sprint Cup operation that, along with championship-winning drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, had been "all Chevrolet" since its inception.
Surely, Toyota's move was not necessarily meant to denigrate its then-existing associations as much as the carmaker recognized a principal point common to any professional arena in which something is successfully contested: so slight is the difference between a winner and an also-ran that such is almost immeasurable.
Nine starts into the 2008 season and JGR already is providing Toyota that almost-immeasurable difference in a measurable way with its three drivers, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart each occupying a top-10 spot in NASCAR's Sprint Cup championship standings.
NASCAR is not the only place, though, where Toyota is finding racing success.
Witness the whupping Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is laying on competitors over in NASCAR's "little cousin" sportycar racing series, the Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16.
Joining the Rolex Series in 2004, Scott Pruett was hired as that team's primary driver for the No. 01 TELMEX Lexus-Riley Daytona Prototype, the Lexus-branded power plant of which, like the NASCAR-approved "Toyota" engine, originally comes from Toyota Racing Development.
With Pruett and then co-driver Max Papis at the wheel, the team won the championship coming out-of-the-box in 2004. Facing stiff competition and having two other co-drivers since (Papis eventually becoming a Hendrick "COT" test driver) the CGRwFS team finished second in points for the following three championship seasons (2005, 2006, 2007).
In 2008, and in an opening performance unlike any seen in prior Rolex Series seasons, the CGRwFS team has finished worst than first only once - even that being a second place - through four of the series' 14-race, 2008 schedule.
In a case of "dejà vu all over again," some in the Rolex Series are hollering "it's the TRD engine!"
Begging to differ, championship-winning power is really found in a human's "heart" and not in a car.
CGRwFS Rolex Series team manager Tim Keene and his crew are on a mission to post a mark like no other before it and Pruett, who is a stone's throw from 50-years old, still somehow consistently digs as deep as any driver found anywhere; looking to add another major championship to the seven he's already collected.
Similar motivation is likely found in the pits and on top of JGR's war wagons; whether Nationwide or Sprint Cup.
Added to the JGR mix is a talented Kyle Busch, who was "dismissed" in 2007 as the Hendrick Motorsports team made room for Dale Earnhardt Jr. While some never rise after being beaten down, others use it as the highest form of motivation.
Busch, like Pruett and their respective teams, for whatever reason are people who have heart and are "on a mission" best understood by those undertaking it.
A pilgrim possessing a craftsman's finest tool but lacking knowledge in using it will still crank out a lousy product.
Toyota and Lexus are tools being used by some people - at least for now - having more "heart."
DC Williams, exclusively for Motorsport.com