Questions & Answers with Lee White, Senior Vice President of Toyota Racing Development, Inc. July 20, 2004 At the midway point of the season, how do you feel about Toyota's first season in the NASCAR...
Questions & Answers with Lee White, Senior Vice President of Toyota Racing
July 20, 2004
At the midway point of the season, how do you feel about Toyota's first season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS)?
"When we started the program, we hoped to win in the last quarter of the season. Then, when we started the way we did at Daytona, the expectations changed. Now, everyone is disappointed we haven't won yet."
"It's unrealistic to expect a new manufacturer to win races right away, but since we had the good start at Daytona and Atlanta -- everyone was optimistic that we'd at least pick up a win by now. Now, it's `grind it out' time."
What do you expect from the Toyota NCTS program heading into the remainder of this season?
"Honestly, we're a little unsure at this point what to expect. We started the season with all of our teams running very close together, and now they're all over the map. We don't have the same consistency that we had the first couple of races. Whether that's just everyone searching for answers, or set-ups, or what, I'm not sure. There are a lot of factors that could contribute to that. Or, it could be the teams learning to work better with the support that we're bringing. We're also heavy on rookies who haven't been to a lot of these tracks. Really, the longer we go in the season, there aren't too many tracks we go back to a second time. We're not the Nextel Cup series. We go back to Texas and Martinsville a second time, but every place else we go, quite a few of our teams are seeing for the first time because they're new. So, set-up wise, every time we roll out of the trailer it's going to be a new adventure. Almost everyone else has raced at these tracks and none of our teams have raced at the tracks. It's probably wishful thinking to believewe' re on more equal footing. Every track we go to we're going to face the same challenges and need to keep collecting information so we'll be better next season."
What can you attribute to the early season success at Daytona and Atlanta?
"The luxury we had at Daytona was we had a lot of testing at the track before the start of the season. And, the luxury we had at Atlanta was we had a quite a bit of testing under our belt before that race. Now, we're racing every week and it's difficult to catch up under those circumstances."
How would you describe the relationship between TRD and the individual race teams?
"It's very much a learning process. We're making progress and we're learning. We're learning what we can offer that's of real tangible benefit at the racetrack. The teams are learning more how to capitalize on the data that we can bring them -- the information that we can bring them. Everyone is a racer and most of the people involved have been racing in one way or another for some time. They are inclined to go with what they're comfortable with, and it takes time to get a level of acceptance for some new or different approach."
Has the level of acceptance of TRD's approach increased among the teams?
"Absolutely. There has been a quantum increase in the level of usage and acceptance of the engineering expertise that we bring to the program. But, until it wins, it's just an exercise."
What are the highlights for Toyota so far this year?
"Just getting to Daytona was a highlight considering the uphill battle that we all faced. Certainly, the results at Daytona were gratifying and very surprising. The qualifying and finishing results at Atlanta were quite staggering. But, the performance at Atlanta raised everyone's expectations so high that it's been a very long road since then. The only thing that's really going to come even close to Atlanta is getting one of the Tundras into the winner's circle. And, even more difficult than that is going to be doing it again."
In what areas do you need to make improvements?
"Without question, the short track program needs the most work. We have two or three or four drivers that on a regular basis are running pretty well on the mile-and-a-half tracks and bigger. The engine is coming along, and that's helping, plus we're learning about the aero part of the truck. The place we appear on the surface to be suffering the most is in an understanding of the mechanical grip necessary to make the trucks competitive on short tracks. Because more than a third of the races are on short tracks, you need to have that in your repertoire if you're ever going to win a championship."
What factors will help you make those improvements?
"It's testing. It's having the opportunity and the time and the budget to try some other things and keep working at it. Then get it so all the teams and drivers understand it."
What do you think of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series?
"It's a great series. We really enjoy the organization and we enjoy the competition."
What do you expect during the rest of the season?
"We're certainly hoping to break into `Victory Lane' a couple of times before the season is over."