Editorial

2006 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 1
A big first day

   by Rick Benjamin
January 23, 2006

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Toyota announces their entry into NASCAR Busch and Cup

Official confirmation that Toyota will be moving into the NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch Series in 2007, plus confirmation that NASCAR’S Car of Tomorrow project will become part of Cup racing next year, topped the list of major announcements during day one of the annual NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte.

The tour, now in its third decade, is again hosting more than 200 reporters from local and national media focusing on NASCAR racing. Monday’s activities began with the now-traditional NASCAR Chairman Brian France headlined the session which included the official unveiling of Toyota’s prototype Camry targeted for Cup racing in 2007.

Dave Illingworth, Toyota’s Director of Planning and Development, made the official announcement. Illingworth noted the Camry’s NASCAR debut would help mark the 50th anniversary of Toyota sales in the US, saying the company’s past couple of years racing its Tundra in the Craftsman Truck Series had given it a real appreciation for the value of NASCAR competition.  But Illingworth also made it clear Toyota’s normal competition model won’t apply to the company’s entry into Cup and Busch Series racing. There’ll be no Toyota-backed cars or teams next year, as has been the case in the Truck Series.


NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France addresses members of the media at the NASCAR press conference in Concord, N.C.
Davis Turner/Getty Images

Instead Toyota will make its parts and pieces available to its contracted teams which will then build their own race cars. That is in line with the existing NASCAR competition model.

NASCAR’s Brian France indicated that competition model remains vital to NASCAR. The sanctioning body plans to keep as level a playing field as possible once Toyota brings the Camry to the garage area next season. Toyota is slated to announce its Cup and Busch teams and drivers Tuesday night when it hosts a dinner for the media at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway’s Speedway Club.

 


NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France joins Toyota Executive Dave Illingworth during the unveiling of the Toyota Camry that will be on track beginning in 2007.
Davis Turner/Getty Images

The NASCAR presentation also focused on the roll-out of the Car of Tomorrow project, scheduled over a three-year period beginning next season. NASCAR executives say the COT project should cut costs for race teams, a contention that team owner Jack Roush disputes. NASCAR believes the bigger, boxier COT will mean teams won’t have to build as many cars and that build times in team shops will also go down, thus saving more money. NASCAR’s plan involves a much more stringent laser-guided system of measuring cars during tech inspection, giving teams a much smaller “hole” of creativity in car building. The plan, as is the case in road racing, is to require the same car configuration on virtually all NASCAR tracks, with aero adjustments coming from adjustable or changeable front splitters and rear wings. It’ll still be possible to add and move ballast to change handling, but again that should happen in a tighter technical window once the Car of Tomorrow hits the race track.

NASCAR is hoping to create closer racing with the new car. Officials say the use of the rear wing instead of the current spoiler should allow cars to run closer in “dirty” air, though more on-track aero evaluation needs to be completed to finish the specifications of the Car.

NASCAR Vice President of Research and Development Gary Nelson noted one of the goals for the Car of Tomorrow is greatly enhanced driver safety. As has been widely reported, the car’s greenhouse is much bigger, allowing for a larger roll cage. The driver’s seat has been moved four inches right, toward the car’s center. The new car will also include more “crush zones” designed to enhance driver safety in a hard wreck.

NASCAR is also planning a 17.5 gallon fuel cell for the new car, building on the idea behind the current Talladega-only smaller cell. That, plus the possibility that the new COT will be a good bit heavier than the current 3400 pound Cup spec, and the fact that the car will be less aerodynamically efficient, should create more pit stops in each Cup ad Busch Series race. That, in turn, will provide more chances to “shuffle the deck” on the race track…but it will also put even more emphasis on quick pit work. And the sanctioning body plans to start using unleaded fuel in its touring series by 2008.

NASCAR also announced its 8-driver “Drive for Diversity” lineup for 2006, welcoming Ken Schrader Racing and NHRA superstar Frank Pedregon to the family of teams offering opportunities to young women and minority drivers. Race winners Allison Duncan and Chris Bristol will return, along with several other promising young guns in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series ranks.

While taking reporter’s questions Monday, France acknowledged that the departure of COO George Pyne will leave a void in the company. Pyne is expected to be announced as the new president of giant sports-management firm IMG later this week. But NASCAR President Mike Helton pointed out that the France family has built a team with plenty of bench strength to withstand departures by key leaders, and that the company will continue to grow stronger.

France also noted that NASCAR continues to have a great interest in expanding to Canada, but that that would not involve the Cup Series.

After wrapping up at NASCAR, the tour moved across the street to the Roush Racing headquarters complex, nearby the Concord Regional Airport.

Team owner Jack Roush headed the presentation, along with his five Cup Series drivers plus his two Busch and Truck Series entrants. The long-time team owner noted that even though he did not win a third-straight Nextel Cup, the feat of placing all 5 of his teams in the Chase made this past season his most rewarding ever….and he’s just hoping 2006 comes close to ’05 in terms of Roush Racing success.

Roush was somewhat skeptical of Toyota’s entry into the Cup and Busch Series come next season. He noted that Toyota greatly changed the game in the Craftsman Truck Series and anticipates that could happen in Cup and Busch as well, despite NASCAR’s announced intention to insure that Toyota operates its NASCAR racing effort in the usual way, avoiding direct ownership or sponsorship of teams.

Mark Martin, back from retirement for one more run in Cup and Busch, may actually be the busiest Roush driver this year. He’ll make selected Busch Series starts, expects to restart the Craftsman Truck portion of his driving career, and will defend his IROC title….all in addition to his full season of driving the red, white, and blue AAA-sponsored #6 Fusion on the Cup tour.

Roush will also be impacted over the next several seasons by NASCAR’s announced intentions to limit Cup ownership to four teams per company. Roush says the earliest he could be down to that number would be 2009, when his current commitment to Carl Edwards and his Cup backers expires. But Roush admitted that drivers and sponsors sometimes make moves on other schedules, and that if that happens he could be down to four Cup teams more quickly.

The NASCAR Media Tour moves on to Evernham Motorsports, Robert Yates Racing, Gibbs Racing, and other stops over the next several days. We’ll have all the details from Charlotte.

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