After a lackluster 2014, Toyota is at the top of its game. In an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com, Dave Wilson explains why.
Before Kyle Busch left the elevator to do yet another winner’s interview, he turned and said, “Thanks Dave!”
That “Dave” is David Wilson, who became President of Toyota Racing Development in January of 2014.
But the humble Wilson will acknowledge that his first official year on the job was less than memorable.
In spite as coming as close as we did to winning the championship, 2014 was an embarrassing year for our company and for Joe Gibbs Racing
Toyota's Dave Wilson on 2014 season
Sure, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin won races relatively early in the season and qualified for the Chase. Sure Hamlin finished second in the point standings. Yet after Race 10, when the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team won at Talladega, Toyota went winless the rest of the season.
Righting the ship
Long before Toyota went 2 and 34 last season, Wilson went to work mid-season to right the ship. Despite Busch being sidelined for the first 11 races of the season, Hamlin won at Martinsville, Matt Kenseth, who went winless in 2014, won at Bristol and newcomer Carl Edwards was victorious at Charlotte.
But what’s even more remarkable is the dominance of Busch’s TRD/JGR-powered Camrys and his ability to win four of the last five races at four different tracks with three different rules packages.
“It’s a true team effort,” Wilson said. “People start looking at the turn around and say, ‘what did you do in the past six weeks?’ But this hasn’t been the past six weeks. This started last summer. In spite as coming as close as we did to winning the championship, 2014 was an embarrassing year for our company and for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“Last summer, it really came to a head and we buckled down. I traced the turnaround to Chicago — the first race of the Chase. That’s when we started to turn this ship around. It’s been a tremendous amount of work in the off-season. And these packages, and throwing new challenges at these teams, I think that’s something that our organization and our partners at Joe Gibbs Racing excel at — taking something that’s time sensitive and maximizing our opportunity.”
To check this off of Toyota’s list, this is the only track of the 23 that we race on today that we haven’t won at
Toyota's Dave Wilson on winning at Indy
When NASCAR debuted the low downforce aerodynamic package at Kentucky on July 11, Toyota was ready. Not only did Busch win, Hamlin, Edwards and Kenseth rounded out the top-five.
When NASCAR said it was introducing a high drag package for Indy, Hamlin was the fastest car off the truck in the first package. On Saturday, Edwards won the pole. In addition to Busch’s victory on Sunday — Toyota’s seventh of the season — Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Kenseth finished fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively.
Wilson says the company’s success is a culmination of a lot of “blood, sweat and tears,” but now Toyota is enjoying “the return of that investment”.
Finally victorious at the Yard of Bricks
And nine years of attempting to win the Brickyard 400, Toyota finally achieved that goal and ended Chevy’s streak of 12 consecutive wins at Indy in the process.
“There’s so many moments to qualify what this means but you have to start with that young man and what he has achieved,” Wilson said. “It’s just breathtaking — but that’s just one. To check this off of Toyota’s list, this is the only track of the 23 that we race on today that we haven’t won at. To break the 12-win streak from Chevy, I have a tremendous amount of respect for what that takes. Jim Campbell sent me a very gracious note after the race today congratulating me. That means so much to be able to race with these guys — and to beat them.
“Then you just sit back and look at the historic aspect of this racetrack. It’s one of the most famous — if not the most famous — racetrack in the world. So to win here, and to win this race is extremely special. Kyle said his big four were the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, the Coke 600 and Darlington. I would put this one just on par with Daytona — and as an engineer, I would put it ahead of the Daytona 500 just because of the nature of plate racing because it marginalizes the technology you put in a race car and marginalizes the driver. So that, again, caps off how special a day it is for Toyota.”