Joe Gibbs calls Keselowski's Toyota sandbagging comments "comical"

Back in the day, it wasn’t unusual to see a parade of manufacturer representatives marching into the NASCAR hauler lobbying for a little something extra.

Joe Gibbs calls Keselowski's Toyota sandbagging comments "comical"
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford, Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford, Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford, Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Championship contenders press conference: team owner Joe Gibbs
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and David Wilson
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford

Perhaps, a request for an aerodynamic change, maybe a touch more horsepower under the hood — anything for an advantage.

Michigan International Speedway — one of the sport’s highest-speed tracks — was an ideal testing ground for teams to show off its latest and greatest cars. Not surprisingly, MIS would also mark that time on the calendar when NASCAR would pull out the engine dyno and run the best cars from every make and compare notes.

The tools for assessing the race cars have become more sophisticated than simply rolling out a dyno at the race track. And NASCAR routinely takes cars each week from each make — along with a random car — in an attempt to maintain parity.

What Brad said

But when Brad Keselowski suggested during his post-qualifying interview on Friday that the sanctioning body would conduct an in-depth inspection of the current top cars, the concept wasn’t so farfetched.

“About this time every year NASCAR takes all the cars to kind of check to make sure that the competitive balance is where they want it to be, and I think we’ve seen the last two or three weeks that the Toyota cars are pretty dominant,” Keselowski said. “We had a strong suspicion that those guys would kind of tune it down this weekend, so not to post a pretty big number in inspection that maybe balanced back out the competition, and potentially that’s right because our team hasn’t done much differently and those guys are just not as fast as they’ve been the last few weeks. So we’ll know for certain at the end of the week based on whether NASCAR takes the cars after the race today.

“This is their last opportunity on a track that has the potential to showcase the important things for speed in the chase, which is aerodynamics and horsepower, because the chase is predominantly on tracks of mile-and-a-half or similar high-speed nature to this. So this is kind of the last opportunity for NASCAR to do that, so we came into the weekend thinking that some of those really strong cars would tune it down and knowing that we probably were pretty close to what we had the last few weeks. I’m not sure if that’s what happened, but it kind of looks that way at the moment, but we’ll still take what we can get.”

Toyota responds

Toyota Racing Development NASCAR boss Dave Wilson was flattered by Keselowski’s remarks. But he assures the former champion that TRD will not be sandbagging at Michigan this weekend — or at any other track down the road. 

“We all acknowledge there are politics in this sport, but this isn’t the ‘80s or ‘90s where NASCAR would make what I call, ‘BOP’ — Balance of Performance — or changes on the fly,” Wilson told Motorsport.com. “‘Let’s give Pontiac another half-inch.’ Everyone would line up behind the hauler. That predates Toyota’s involvement. That’s part of the old sport. Those days are over and we all have the same rulebook to operate in — and that’s understood. 

“But the notion that we would not give it our all it patently false. We brought our very best stuff. I’m pissed off that we have five poles in a row going. That’s the longest streak that we’ve ever had as a manufacturer. And I wanted to keep it go. The Ford guys are always good here, but I think we’ll be ok here. In the spring here, as a manufacturer we led the most laps between Kyle (Busch) and Martin Truex Jr. They led 102 laps. Obviously, Kyle (Larson) led the most as a driver, but it’s not like we weren’t a factor.”

On Sunday, three Fords will start out front for the Pure Michigan 400. Keselowski will lead the field followed by his Penske teammate Joey Logano and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick. Following the Fords are two Toyotas — Matt Kenseth (fourth) and Kyle Busch (sixth) and the Chevys of Chase Elliott (fifth) and Jamie McMurray (seventh).

Joe Gibbs, who has won three of the last four races chuckled when asked about Keselowski’s suggestion that the Toyotas were laying back.

“That’s comical,” Gibbs said. “That’s a better way of putting it. That’s a joke. I think we’re working as hard as we can. Our races for Toyota have been good — for our race team, it hasn’t been.”

The shining star in the Toyota camp has been points leader Truex, who boasts a tour-high four wins, 1,315 laps led and a whopping 34 playoff points as the only driver with double digit (14) stage wins.

A crew chief's take

Cole Pearn, crew chief for Truex, called Keselowski’s comments “ridiculous.”

“Yeah, that’s ridiculous, this is my home race,” said the 34-year-old Strathroy-Caradoc, Ontario native with a laugh. “I want to win here as much as any week. We bring everything we got every week. I can’t understand his logic.”

Pearn does believe he has an advantage over his fellow TRD teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing because the onus is on them to develop the chassis and other pieces as well as provide the pit crews for the Nos. 77 and 78 Furniture Row Racing teams. But with the FRR teams based in Denver, there are times he feels logistically challenged.

“We would be way worse without it,” Pearn added. “But it’s still hard being in Colorado and all that. It’s easier and quicker to respond at times than it is for us. A lot of times, we have to load weeks before they do. But we do the best we can out of it.”

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