Toyota to run in Busch

Are you ready to hear a Saturday afternoon Victory Circle interview start out, "Well, Chris, the Mountain Dew/Kibbles n' Bits/Drano/Old Everclear Camry run real good today, and my guys did an awesome job in the pits,"?

If not, you'd better prepare for an attitude adjustment, because Toyota will be running in the NASCAR Busch series in 2006. After a season and a half in Craftsman Truck competition, the Japanese automaker has taken the next step. NASCAR has confirmed that Toyota intends to compete in the Busch Series in 2006 and is an active participant in discussions about the next generation of Nextel Cup cars and engines, which will debut in 2007 or 2008.

Although there is no hard information on Toyota teams as yet, it is suspected that Bill Davis Racing will develop Toyota's Busch car. The team has been the lead development team in the truck project. There is also speculation that the Penske South and Ganassi organizations may switch to Toyota when the company makes its Nextel Cup debut, as both have strong relationships with Toyota in the Indy Racing League. Penske still has two years to go on its contract with Dodge, and Ganassi has professed his loyalty to the Dodge brand, but things in racing have been known to change suddenly when large amounts of money are involved.

There are differing opinions on having a Japanese automaker compete in the most American of all sports/entertainment venues. Jack Roush has gone on record as being unalterably opposed to it, while Cal Wells (who has a history with Toyota in off-road racing and CART) thinks it's terrific. Ray Evernham opines that Toyota is going to raise the game of the American car companies if they hope to compete.

"If we want to make sure the American manufacturers can still compete, than they have to get as serious as Toyota is," said Evernham. Given the recent news of Ford and GM bonds being reduced to "junk bond" status by the Wall Street boys, maybe it's the wakeup call they need.

Nextel Cup driver and Busch team owner Michael Waltrip said of the move, "I think it would be great. I think they need to be here. They've added so much to the truck series and when you drive a Chevy or a Ford or a Dodge, you want to beat everybody. When the Toyotas show up, that just makes things more competitive and more interesting."

Hmmm. . . . Michael's brother Darrel owns a Toyota Truck team. I wonder if the brothers will finally get together on an Aaron's Dream Machine Busch Toyota.

Jeff Gordon appears to be on pace to win another Championship in NASCAR's top division. His win at Talladega didn't put him into the points lead, but with the "Chase for the Championship" format, a top-ten placing after the first 26 races is all anybody is looking for at this point in the season.

And as if Gordon's competition weren't already sufficiently demoralized, he just set a new unofficial track record at Lowe's Motor Speedway in testing last week. Gordon clocked 189.056 mph around the 1.5 mile track, beating Ryan Newman's previous record by almost three-hundredths of a second. The track, which recently underwent a grinding of the pavement surface, drew rave reviews from the 17 drivers involved in the test session. Greg Biffle was third fastest in testing and said he could run fast low, middle, or high. That bodes well for exciting side-by-side racing in the upcoming May 29 Coca Cola 600.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has weighed in on the Talladega crashes, laying blame on points leader Jimmy Johnson for the mayhem.

"If there was one idiot out there it was him," said Junior at the Lowe's test session. At the risk of being deluged with hate mail from Little E fans, I have to say that after watching interminable replays of the "big onea" that Junior was as much at fault as Johnson. The combination of Earnhardt bump-drafting Mike Wallace just as Johnson got a bit loose next to him created a "perfect storm" situation that triggered the 25-car pileup. Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.


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