Toyota's Sprint Cup program remains a work in progress

With nearly a third of the NASCAR season in the books, Toyota's Dave Wilson assesses his teams' development.

KANSAS CITY, KAN. — No; Toyota teams aren't setting the world on fire in the Sprint Cup Series — yet.

But Toyota Racing Development President and GM Dave Wilson remains optimistic. Wilson is quick to point out that Toyota Cup teams have twice as many wins as they did this time last year. 

Improving performance on intermediate tracks

“This is the time of year where you have a glimpse of where you are,” Wilson said prior to Saturday’s race at Kansas Speedway. “We have (eleven) races under our belt now, at a variety of tracks. So you have a sense for what your performance is like coming out of the gate. For us, at TRD and on the team side, now we’re into trying to evolve our packages and tune them and make the first step versus what we launched with at the beginning of the season. 

“With Kansas, the All Star and the (CocaCola) 600 all being intermediate tracks — and frankly, last year we really fell down in that category, these are very important indicators for how we’re going to race during the middle part of the season.”

Toyota’s two wins in the first 11 races were on short tracks. When it comes to Toyota’s performance on intermediate tracks, the Camrys are still struggling to keep up with the Hendrick-powered Chevys and the Team Penske Fords. 

And Saturday night’s SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway was no exception. 

With his sixth-place finish at Kansas, Matt Kenseth once again delivered Toyota its best finish on a 1.5-mile track. The Joe Gibbs racer, who has been Mr. Consistency throughout his career, is also responsible for the manufacturer’s only top-five finish on an intermediate track with a fifth-place run at Atlanta. Brett Moffitt posted Michael Waltrip Racing’s only top 10 on a 1.5-miler in that same race. MWR”s Clint Bowyer’s only two top 10s this season were earned at Daytona and Richmond. 

At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Carl Edwards led the Toyota contingent with a 10th-place run. Despite leading 12 laps on Saturday night at Kansas, a loose wheel thwarted a solid result at the Columbia, Mo. native’s hometown track. Edwards finished 20th. Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, who was making his Sprint Cup debut, all ran within the top 10 during portions of the race. 

But wrecks ended any hope Hamlin or Jones had of posting positive results. Ditto Bowyer and MWR newcomer David Ragan. Edwards issue was simply execution which has cost the No. 19 Arris team on several occasions this season. 

Kenseth carrying the flag

Currently, Kenseth, who won at Bristol, is the only Toyota driver among the top 10 in the point standings. He moved up to seventh on Saturday despite spinning out on Lap 130 and receiving a penalty, due to a solid recovery and “some good fortune”. Kenseth acknowledged that following the two-hour plus rain delay starting on Lap 97, the car “just wasn't as good”.   

Still, Kenseth found a way to be in contention at the end. Without winning a race last season, the driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota was never lower than seventh in the standings — and as high as first — until the points were reshuffled entering the Chase. He finished seventh in the points sans victory. 

But for Kenseth — or any of the Toyota drivers — to have a shot against Jimmie Johnson, who won his third intermediate track race Saturday night, or Las Vegas winner Kevin Harvick.

Wilson is pragmatic when it comes to progress. 

“The sport is such that there are no silver bullets,” he said. “There are no “aha”, we’ve found 40 horsepower, right? It’s always, we found a little here. We found a little there. Put them together, keep working on the car and it’s incremental, continuous improvement. 

“In the end, your goal, because you’re competing against a moving target and everyone else is doing the same thing, so our goal is to be a tick better than the competition which allows us to close the gap. Relative to where we were this time last year, we’re much more comfortable because we also know we have performance in the bank and we’re starting to roll some of that out now.”

A unique opportunity

Wilson also believes that MWR's acquisition of David Ragan, who spent the last nine races with Gibbs subbing for Kyle Busch prior to moving into the No. 55 Toyota, "can't hurt" when it comes to building alliances between the two teams. Considering the revolving door of drivers at MWR this season with Brian Vickers being sidelined with blood clots, Ragan will bring stability to the organization. It will also offer a driver to the mix who is familiar with the sytems at JGR.

"What I like about that is, number one, who doesn't like David Ragan," Wilson said. "He's such a good guy. You want to root for him. You want him to do well because he's a good person. But the job he had to do at Gibbs was daunting to fill that seat. And believe me, Adam (crew chief Stevens) was hard on him. He made him work. He made him improve and I'm really proud of him.

"But

KANSAS CITY, KAN. — No, Toyota teams aren’t setting the world on fire in the Sprint Cup Series — yet.

But Toyota Racing Development President and GM Dave Wilson remains optimistic. Wilson is quick to point out that Toyota Cup teams have twice as many wins as they did this time last year. 

We’re into trying to evolve our packages and tune them and make the first step versus what we launched with at the beginning of the season.

Dave Wilson 

“This is the time of year where you have a glimpse of where you are,” Wilson said prior to Saturday’s race at Kansas Speedway. “We have (eleven) races under our belt now, at a variety of tracks. So you have a sense for what your performance is like coming out of the gate. For us, at TRD and on the team side, now we’re into trying to evolve our packages and tune them and make the first step versus what we launched with at the beginning of the season. 

“With Kansas, the All Star and the (CocaCola) 600 all being intermediate tracks — and frankly, last year we really fell down in that category, these are very important indicators for how we’re going to race during the middle part of the season.”

A ways to go

Toyota’s two wins in the first 11 races were on short tracks. When it comes to Toyota’s performance on intermediate tracks, the Camrys are still struggling to keep up with the Hendrick-powered Chevys and the Team Penske Fords. 

And Saturday night’s SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway was no exception. 

With his sixth-place finish at Kansas, Matt Kenseth once again delivered Toyota its best finish on a 1.5-mile track. The Joe Gibbs racer, who has been Mr. Consistency throughout his career, is also responsible for the manufacturer’s only top-five finish on an intermediate track with a fifth-place run at Atlanta. Brett Moffitt posted Michael Waltrip Racing’s only top 10 on a 1.5-miler in that same race. MWR”s Clint Bowyer’s only two top 10s this season were earned at Daytona and Richmond. 

At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Carl Edwards led the Toyota contingent with a 10th-place run. Despite leading 12 laps on Saturday night at Kansas, a loose wheel thwarted a solid result at the Columbia, Mo. native’s hometown track. Edwards finished 20th. Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, who was making his Sprint Cup debut, all ran within the top 10 during portions of the race. 

But wrecks ended any hope Hamlin or Jones had of posting positive results. Ditto Bowyer and MWR newcomer David Ragan. Edwards' issue was simply execution which has cost the No. 19 Arris team on several occasions this season.

The go-to guy 

Currently, Kenseth, who won at Bristol, is the only Toyota driver among the top 10 in the point standings. He moved up to seventh on Saturday despite spinning out on Lap 130 and receiving a penalty, due to a solid recovery and “some good fortune”. Kenseth acknowledged that following the two-hour plus rain delay starting on Lap 97, the car “just wasn't as good”.   

Still, Kenseth found a way to be in contention at the end. Without winning a race last season, the driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota was never lower than seventh in the standings — and as high as first — until the points were reshuffled entering the Chase. He finished seventh in the points sans victory. 

But for Kenseth — or any of the Toyota drivers — to have a shot against Jimmie Johnson, who won his third intermediate track race Saturday night, or Las Vegas winner Kevin Harvick.

Not standing still

Wilson is pragmatic when it comes to progress. 

“The sport is such that there are no silver bullets,” he said. “There are no “aha”, we’ve found 40 horsepower, right? It’s always, we found a little here. We found a little there. Put them together, keep working on the car and it’s incremental, continuous improvement. 

“In the end, your goal, because you’re competing against a moving target and everyone else is doing the same thing, so our goal is to be a tick better than the competition which allows us to close the gap. Relative to where we were this time last year, we’re much more comfortable because we also know we have performance in the bank and we’re starting to roll some of that out there.”

A unique opportunity

Wilson also believes that MWR's acquisition of David Ragan, who spent the last nine races with Gibbs subbing for Kyle Busch prior to moving into the No. 55 Toyota, "can't hurt" when it comes to building alliances between the two teams.

Considering the revolving door of drivers at MWR this season with Brian Vickers being sidelined with blood clots, Ragan will bring stability to the organization. It will also offer a driver to the mix who is familiar with the sytems at JGR.

 They're both Toyotas but one's a Gibbs Toyota and the other's a Waltrip Toyota. So to have that information, will help us to help them.

Dave Wilson

"What I like about that is, number one, who doesn't like David Ragan," Wilson said. "He's such a good guy. You want to root for him. You want him to do well because he's a good person. But the job he had to do at Gibbs was daunting to fill that seat. And believe me, Adam (crew chief Stevens) was hard on him. He made him work. He made him improve and I'm really proud of him.

"But getting out of the 18 JGR car and into the 55 MWR car will give us a relative feel for where those cars stack up. They're both Toyotas but one's a Gibbs Toyota and the other's a Waltrip Toyota. So to have that information, will help us to help them.

"With David's experience and seat time, he'll be able to help Clint. I think the world of Brett Moffitt, he's a good, young race car driver, but he didnt have the opportunity to participate at an immediate level where David will be able to sit with Clint after each session and exchange thoughts and help the team get better." 

Toyota will have a second chance to show its gains over the next two weeks at Charlotte Motor Speedway — the fifth race of the season on an intermediate track and like Texas and Kansas a venue that will appear in the playoffs. Certainly, a little luck couldn't hurt.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Event Kansas
Track Kansas Speedway
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Carl Edwards , Denny Hamlin
Article type Commentary
Tags dave wilson, joe gibbs racing, michael waltrip racing, toyota, trd