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Bombs Away
No matter the facts, Detroit continues to worry about possible foreign invasion from Toyota and Honda
Mike Mulhern
Winston-Salem JOURNAL

DOVER, Del. - Giddy he isn't. In fact, Lee White looks exasperated. The joys of Daytona and all that early-season optimism have worn off. Toyota Truck's department is 0 for 6 after Mike Skinner's bad luck here Friday, and throw in Honda's Indy rout last weekend and it's easy to see why White, head of Toyota's racing operations, isn't in a very good mood.

So don't ask when Toyota might jump up to NASCAR Cup racing. Now's not the moment to raise that issue, even through rivals in the Cup garage are pointing to Daytona February 2006 as the target date they're hearing. "That's pure speculation," White said. "Nothing has changed. This is a Truck racing program.

"Our primary racing program is the Indy Racing League, and we've got our challenges over there, and we're working hard to reorganize ourselves and address those challenges. We have a long-term commitment there, and we intend to honor that. We'd like to extend that.

"We have a commitment to the Truck series, it's been very successful for us so far. We're happy with it, management is happy with it. We intend to win races in the Truck series.

"Beyond that, there is no budget (for Cup), there is no plan, there is no schedule, there is nothing beyond the Truck series at this point."

To go Cup racing, what would be a go/no-go cut-off date? "You have to talk to NASCAR, to have to decide what car you're going to run, and you'll have to start doing engine development, and there is all this talk right now at NASCAR about the 'engine of the future,'" White said. "And we've had none of those discussions. None."

How much advance work is needed? "It has to be at least a couple years ahead... if you're ever going to do it," White said. "And at this point we have not initiated any discussions."

And after Indy ....

"We've had a very good two years in open-wheel racing, where we managed, with a lot of hard work and good teams, to unseat Honda, who enjoyed a reign in open-wheel racing where it was just a guaranteed championship and wins just fell out of the sky," White said. "We unseated them in CART and in our first year in Indy-car we won 11 of 16 and the manufacturers championship and the drivers championship and finished six of seven at Indy.

"But Honda is a racing company, and I give them credit for coming back strong. They made a significant investment in people and equipment and facilities and technology.

Toyota's NASCAR game plan has worried Detroit manufacturers ever since the Japanese giant announced its stock-car racing plans two years ago. Now there are increasing fears that NASCAR, in part because of Toyota, is going down the Formula One road with "works-based" engines, where manufacturers gain too much control of the sport.

32 of the top 35 Nextel Cup teams are factory backed. And Toyota has yet to sign in. And then there's Honda, and wherever Toyota goes Honda is sure to follow.

So in one sense these are heady times. In another sense, scary times. Particularly since NASCAR's competition department seems woefully inadequate to handle all this technology. NASCAR can't even figure out to turn on and off the caution lights.

Much of NASCAR's technical planning, particularly its "engine of the future," is based around Toyota's still tentative Cup plans. NASCAR wants all four manufacturers to have equal stuff when Toyota comes into Cup.

But Detroit engineers say that Toyota has introduced exotic, and expensive, new production techniques that NASCAR doesn't even understand yet, techniques that Detroit is trying to match.

Full Article Here

 
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