Continued from part 1 Q: Jimmy touched on the engine issue, but everybody in the garage kept saying what a daunting task it was going to be to switch. TRD certainly has technology that will help expedite your learning curve where that ...
Continued from part 1
Q: Jimmy touched on the engine issue, but everybody in the garage kept saying what a daunting task it was going to be to switch. TRD certainly has technology that will help expedite your learning curve where that is concerned. But how long does it take to put an engine together? What are the challenges ahead for you?
MARK CRONQUIST: "Well, that's a good question. Really, putting an engine together is easy. It's finding the combination that you need for that that's hard. The one advantage we have switching to Toyota from, say the R-O7 engine, is with the R-O7 engine, nobody had raced it. If you look at everybody's R-O7 engines, the alternator might be on a different side or the oil pump may be on a different side. This engine's already built. It's put together. So mounting the alternator and the oil pump, a lot of that is done for us.
"The thing my group has to work on is making sure it is up to our standards of what we normally do, being the performance, the torque, the horsepower and stuff like that.
"So actually, we think it's going to be easier switching to the Toyota engine than it was to switch to the R-O7 engine. With the R-O7 engine, we had to do everything to it, and this engine's built and running right now.
"We actually get a free year of failures and other things, too that have happened to it already this year. We get to work off of that also."
Q: This question is for the crew chiefs. How quickly do you figure you can be competitive in the Toyota and what adjustments are you looking at from your side of things?
GREG ZIPADELLI: "For my side of things, we're obviously focused on the end of this year. Everything's going to be on COT (Car of Tomorrow) next year, so it will be small body changes as far as appearance to it. The fundamentals of the race car, the parts and pieces, are the same thing that we're using this year.
"We're going to rely on Mark a lot to keep our motor programs as strong as it's been in years past with reliability and competitive horsepower.
"So from my standpoint there is a little bit of an unknown, but I think that we've got the people here to go to Daytona in the first few races and be just as competitive as we've been in years past."
MIKE FORD: "On the car side, there's not a lot changing. What we're doing now is going to carry over to next year. Jimmy touched on it - a few body changes - but NASCAR has that so tight right now that all the manufacturers are very similar. So on the car side, it's the people that you have working on your cars that make them go fast and we're going to carry that over into next year.
"On the performance side, related to the chassis and the bodies, I really don't see much of a change coming for next year. It's how quickly we can adapt to the engine and move forward from there and I know Mark has a good handle on that."
STEVE ADDINGTON: "We just felt like we had a strong group of people here supporting us. After Mark looked at the engine side of it, we felt pretty good about it."
Q: Jim, can you talk about where you see your biggest deficiencies with the Toyota engine are? What are your biggest problems, and where do you hope that Gibbs can help you out in that area?
JIM AUST: "You have to understand that the engine that we're using in the (Cup) series is an engine that we just started with in the beginning of the season. The (Craftsman) Truck motor and the Busch motor is different than what we're using in the Cup series.
"This engine doesn't have the development that the other engine has. The shortcomings possibly that we've seen in them are in the lower RPM area, and we're continuing to develop the motor. Over time, and certainly our belief is by the time we get to the beginning of next year, our engine's going to be equal to what we have as far as competition is concerned."
Q: J.D., when you make a decision like this, obviously there are a lot of factors and a lot of people that have to be considered for any kind of manufacturing change. The fact that it is Toyota and that there have been all of the issues about the fact that they are a foreign manufacturer, did that bring an extra layer into that discussion? Was that a factor at all in making this decision as you went forward?
J.D. GIBBS: "I think it was a factor. In all reality, if you're going to Dodge or Ford you probably wouldn't have some of the issues that we're going to face. But I think when you really look at it, and this really isn't my area of expertise, but the reality is, a lot of people in the U.S. do work for Toyota. A lot of people sell Toyota vehicles. A lot of people drive Toyota vehicles.
"So from my standpoint, if they have an issue with that whole group, I'm not sure I can help them out a whole lot with that. I'm just saying from our standpoint, what is best for our families here and our teams and we think down the road is this partnership. I think it's a first class company. I think if you look at their history, you'll see that. We look forward to working together for years to come."
Q: Tony, was there any reluctance when you first heard about this change on your part? Did you have to be sold on it at all? And also, do you expect that your fans will react negatively in any way?
TONY STEWART: "You know, it's like J.D. said, it's about winning races, and that's why I came to Joe Gibbs Racing. I've always had the confidence in Joe Gibbs Racing's program. And the thing about Mark Cronquist and I is if we don't talk to each other, we look at that as a good thing. We look at that as a standpoint that things are going really good in the motor department.
"I think today's the first time we've spoken in probably - other than you making a token appearance at a couple races this year - in probably a year and a half, two years. So things are pretty comfortable there.
"I've always had the confidence in our program. And like I said, I came here because I felt like this was my best opportunity to win races and championships. I didn't have to be sold on it. I was sold when I signed my first contract with these guys."
Q: Jim, Toyota came into the sport with a bunch of start-up teams. There were a couple of established teams, but they weren't premier teams. This is. This is an elite NEXTEL Cup team. What does this say for Toyota? Is it a statement that, we tried to be nice now we're going to go win some races?
JIM AUST: "I think probably the first thing is this; any manufacturer would be privileged to be sitting in this chair today at this historic press announcement. Our plan has always been that as we entered NASCAR Cup series, that we would grow.
"The opportunity is one of the things that you don't know when that's going to come available to you. So the plan is that as we entered, we entered with new teams with the addition of Bill Davis and Bill bringing the experience that he had. But certainly there is a lot of skill, a lot of experience, many years of championships here that I think are going to help Toyota in the long run, and I think you'll see the benefit of that next year."
Q: Help the fans debate this today as to whether a guy sticking with a manufacturer his whole life because that is his manufacturer is changing in the sport when it's a business decision now. And Greg, what do you have to do to pull this off next year? There's obviously a lot to do but what are your expectations of how quickly you can make things happen with the switch?
TONY STEWART: "Society is in a constant state of change. This is not like any other professional sport. Things are constantly in a state of change.
"I've had a great relationship with General Motors. From day one I was with GM, and we've won a lot of races and a lot of championships and they've become part of my open wheel program, and I'm very proud of that.
"But like we mentioned earlier, I joined this race team because of the leadership qualities and the quality of competition and dedication that Joe Gibbs and J.D. have had for this sport, and are going to continue to have. So it's never been a question of where are we going to be and where are we going to finish our career? It's what are we going to do and what do we need to do to win races and make sure that we're staying at the top of our game? And if this is the decision that as an organization we feel like we need to make, we have to do what we think is right for the organization and right for all the employees.
"It's not any disrespect to General Motors because we've had a great relationship. We've had a great history with them. The record books show that. But at the same time, we feel like this is the right step to maintain that, and maintain that edge on everybody in the sport.
"You have a lot of loyalty to the manufacturers, but at the same time at the end of the day, this is what we're here for is to win races.
"Like we mentioned earlier, I feel like if J.D. and Mark and everybody feels like this is our best opportunity to do that, I think our fans and everybody will support that. At the end of the day, it's about winning races and championships."
GREG ZIPADELLI: "From my standpoint we kind of touched on that. We've changed from Pontiac to Chevrolet and did it successfully as far as body changes and workload on our part. We've got a great organization. We've got a lot of people here that are behind us, that support us when we're not here when we're testing and we're racing. Our fab shop will do a fantastic job at changing.
"Mark, I have no questions at all will give us good, reliable horsepower by the time we get to Daytona to race, and Vegas and California - those first couple of races. It's going to be another year. It's going to be a little bit of craziness as far as cars, but we're going to Car of Tomorrow next year. We're building a lot of new race cars. We'll be replacing a lot of what we have in the current cars now for intermediates. So as that process goes, they'll be built new and they'll be Camry bodies.
"It will be a little more work, but we've got the people here, the strength. The teamwork, I think, is going to be most important. I think all of us will work together to have good, successful season next year."
Q: J.D., when you talk about the other four manufacturers at Chevrolet being so strong, did you feel it was oversaturated to the point where you guys maybe wouldn't get the funding you needed to survive in the future? And were there qualms between the other GM teams about the direction you wanted to go with your program?
J.D. GIBBS: "I think we get along well. I have a great relationship with all those teams. I think what happened was when you have that many strong teams, the reality of it is that everyone's going to have different ideas. I do like the way GM is organized and put together. You have four different entities currently, so it's not like there is one entity handing out things. Each team does their own things on their own, which is a benefit.
"I do think as you go forward in the future, you're going to have to have a way of working together, closer with the manufacturer, with another team. I think you already see it in the sport. All the engine programs have become consolidated. All the partnerships have become consolidated.
"For us it was a matter of who are we going to be partnered with going forward? I think for us, this is the right partner. If you look inside GM, all those groups currently already have partnerships established.
"I think for us, this is really our partnership going forward and we think we'll be able to work well with the teams that are currently there and partner with them well."
Q: J.D., you spoke earlier about how difficult this decision was for you guys, emotionally. How difficult was it from a business standpoint? Did they make it a foregone conclusion? And how did GM respond? Did they try to keep you?
J.D. GIBBS: "In the negotiation with GM, they did a great job. We were up front with them telling them about the options for us. They came back and said they understood that. It wasn't a deal where we went to one (manufacturer) and said 'How much are you going to pay us?' Then went other another group and said 'How much are you going to pay us?'
"We said 'What are your offers and let's sit down and evaluate it.' It took us a while to evaluate that process. I think the biggest key here that I keep coming back to is our families here and what do we think the right decision is for next year as well. We've got to come out of the box and perform.
"Down the road I do think, to your point, it is an extremely hard business. From a sport standpoint, I deal with some NFL owners and get to talk and spend some time with them. What they have there is a franchise that's set. You've got it. No matter what, the values are going to go up for the most part. Over here, you don't have that.
"Now I kind of like that. I kind of like the fact that the value over here is if you run well. If Tony Stewart sells a bunch of souvenirs, he keeps the money from those souvenirs. There's no pot you have to share.
"But at the end of the day what we're spending the money on - what I really lean on is these guys sitting up here. If one of these guys came to me and said 'Don't do this. This is not the way to go.' We wouldn't have done it. The key is all these guys were on the same page and that meant the most to me."
Continued in part 3