Joe Gibbs Racing switches to Toyota camp
by Pete McCole
September 5, 2007

Jimmy Makar, Mark Conquist, Jim Aust

Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has announced today they will field Toyota Camrys for their Nextel Cup and Busch Series teams beginning with the 2008 NASCAR season.

Gibbs will field Toyotas in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series for two-time series champion Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin, as well as Kyle Busch, who recently signed with Gibbs after being released from Hendrick Motorsports.

The move ends JGR’s 16-year relationship with General Motors, which garnered 58 wins and three championships for the team and gives Toyota their first true elite, championship-caliber team in their stable.

“It wasn’t an easy decision, we think it is the right decision,” said team president J.D. Gibbs. “We think we have a shared vision with Toyota about what our future and what their future looks like in the sport.

“We’ve had a great partner with General Motors in the past 16 years. For the rest of this year, our only focus is going to be winning another title for GM.”

JGR began fielding Chevrolets when they first debuted in 1992 with driver Dale Jarrett. The team stayed with GM when they switched to the Pontiac brand in 1997 before switching back to Chevrolet in 2003.

In making their move to Toyota, Gibbs said the team wanted to take a leadership role with a manufacturer, something the team felt they didn’t have with GM.

“Within GM, you’ve got four really strong teams, and it’s a little more difficult to say who has had the leadership role,” said Gibbs. “There are certain things that we’d like to have a leadership role in, and I think this move will give us that leadership role.

“The burden I feel is that we have over 400 families that work here, and we want to make sure they can stay here for their whole careers, and I think the key to doing that is performance, week in and week out. We think there’s certain things we can do with Toyota that we can have a little more of a leadership role in.”

“This decision was made by all of the key leadership at JGR,” said Jimmy Makar, senior vice president of racing operations for JGR. “It was a decision made by the people in our competition department, who live by the one question whenever a decision is made regarding Joe Gibbs Racing: ‘Will this make us more competitive on the race track?’ The consensus answer was yes.”

The addition of JGR’s stable of drivers also gives Toyota instant star power in Stewart, who along with Hamlin and Busch are among the 12 drivers vying for a slot in the 10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup.

Denny Hamlin, Greg Zipadelli, Tony Stewart, and J.D. Gibbs

“I’m excited about this,” said Stewart. “I think it’s a good opportunity to take a leadership role. I feel like the only way you constantly stay ahead of the game is by putting yourselves in position to be leaders and not followers. That’s why I signed up with Joe Gibbs Racing in the first place and why I’m looking to extend my contract.

“What we’re here for is to win races, and if we feel that this is our best opportunity to do that, I think our fans will support that. At the end of the day it’s about winning races and championships.”

The team admitted that switching from Chevrolet to Toyota from a chassis standpoint will not be a big transition in Nextel Cup, due to the similarities of the Car Of Tomorrow templates, while JGR’s move to Toyota will allow the team to tap into Toyota’s vast pool of resources through the manufacturers Toyota Racing Development program.

“The partnership that we’re going to be entering into with Toyota and how we can use their resources I look at this as an extension of our team technically,” said Makar. “They’ve got a lot of people in their camp that we can draw resources from. Our company is going to grow technically by some 100-plus people, without us having to go out and hire them and that’s going to allow us to stay on the cutting edge of technology.

“We want to stay on the cutting edge and I think by partnering with Toyota we will be able to do that.

Toyota made their debut in Nextel Cup at the start of the 2007 season, but struggled out of the gate with underpowered and underperforming teams that were lucky to make the field, let alone win races.

Toyota’s disappointing results in Nextel Cup has been largely attributed to the fact that two of the three teams fielding Camrys this season - Michael Waltrip Racing and Team Red Bull - are start-up operations who have been unable to overcome the technical problems and lack of engine performance that have cropped up since the manufacturers debut in February.

Since then, Toyota teams have notched just seven top-10 finishes while failing to qualify over 60 times.

Toyota's Lee White

In joining with Gibbs, Toyota hopes to buoy their own program as well, utilizing JGR’s proven engine-building ingenuity to bring the Toyota powerplants up to par with the other three manufacturers.

“We are confident that partnering with the Gibbs team will raise the level of our entire Toyota NASCAR program, and will be beneficial to all of our current teams racing the Toyota Camry,” said Jim Aust, vice president of Toyota Motorsports and president and CEO of Toyota Racing Development, USA.

“The engine that we’re using in the Cup Series is an engine we just started using this season, and hasn’t had the development that the motors in the Truck and Busch Series have. Our belief is by the time we get into the beginning of next season, our engine is going to be equal to the competition.”

No announcement was made on how this move will affect Hall Of Fame Racing, who receives chassis and engines from JGR. The team announced on Tuesday they have signed former JGR driver J.J. Yeley to a multi-year deal.

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