Archive for Thursday, August 2, 2007

Toyota celebrates victory

Busch win gives company reason to cheer

August 2, 2007

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You had to wonder with everything that has happened this season, whether Toyota officials would ever get the chance to celebrate in Victory Lane.

That's why Jason Leffler's dramatic NASCAR Busch Series win last weekend in Clermont, Ind., was such a welcome respite.

Until Leffler's victory at O'Reilly Raceway Park in the No. 38 Camry, Toyota's grand debut in stock car racing had been highlighted by a cheating scandal in the Nextel Cup series' biggest race, the inability of many of its Cup teams to qualify for races and several teasingly close good finishes in Busch races.

"The win really justifies the hard work that everyone has put into the Busch program," said Jim Aust, president and CEO of Toyota Racing Development. "Even though the numbers are small, as far as the amount of competitors out there for us, the drivers and teams are doing a fantastic job."

Aust said although there isn't a lot that can translate to Toyota's Cup programs from the Busch side, enthusiasm never hurts.

"Once you see one team do it, everybody has the same thought: 'If they can do it - we can do it.' That's a real benefit that we'll see as the year unfolds."

Just past the halfway mark of its first venture into the Cup and Busch series, Toyota has been struggling.

One of its flagship teams in Cup, Michael Waltrip Racing, was punished hard by NASCAR when team owner Michael Waltrip's car was caught with a fuel additive at Daytona.

In the ensuing weeks, MWR's teams struggled to make races, as did cars from the Toyota teams of Bill Davis Racing and Team Red Bull.

Without the benefit of on-track race experience, the Toyota teams found it more difficult to identify and correct problems with their cars.

Toyota had seen most of the success it did have come in the Busch Series.

Dave Blaney started the year with a second-place finish in the series opener at Daytona in a Toyota Camry. He followed that with a third at Nashville and another third in the July Daytona race. He also got the manufacturer its first pole, coming in the season's second race at California.

The April Nashville race was the manufacturer's best until Leffler's win. Toyotas finished second, third and fourth in that event.

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