Toyota names first Nextel Cup teams
Day 2 of NASCAR media tour

   by Rick Benjamin
January 24, 2006

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Toyota Camry of the new Red Bull Racing team

Anyone watching closely over the past several seasons has undoubtedly concluded that when Toyota decides to take part in a racing series it makes a full-throttle commitment.

No one expects anything less from Toyota as it enters Nextel Cup and Busch Series racing come 2007. But while the number of Cup Camrys on the grid next year won’t be huge, it will contain a major surprise: Red Bull, the energy drink giant, will become a Toyota team owner in NASCAR.

Team Red Bull is starting from absolute zero, with just more than a year to go before the 2007 Daytona 500. Team principal Marty Gaunt says Red Bull has acquired the former Penske South Cup shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, and is getting started on the process of putting together a Cup team. In fact, Gaunt, who recently left his post with Jeff Hammond’s Toyota Craftsman Truck team, says the energy drink maker plans to field a car, which can’t be a Toyota, in several races late in the ’06 season.

Gaunt indicates the new team has no crew, no crew chief, no drivers, and as yet, no equipment. But what they will bring to the table is a strong commitment to performance, deep pockets, and unquestioned manufacturer support. While their NASCAR learning curve may well be steep, Red Bull has shown it can climb that curve quickly. The question for most of the rest of NASCAR’s teams is can this model, wherein a sponsor owns an entire team itself, be made to work in this segment of the sport. The only other company to attempt something like this in recent memory has been Valvoline through their involvement in MB2 Motorsports.

Toyota Camry of the Bill Davis  Racing team

The balance of Toyota’s Cup team announcement Tuesday night at Lowe’s Motor Speedway was surprisingly low-key. The carmaker will help two other owners as well, for a total of six Camry-bodied entries beginning in 2007. The other two teams were of little surprise: Bill Davis Racing will make the #22 Caterpillar team into a Toyota squad and will also run a second car. And Michael Waltrip Racing, now in partnership with Doug Bawel’s Jasper Engines empire, will also field two Camrys. Mikey will run his 2006 entry in conjunction with BDR to prepare for ’07, though the teams will use Dodges in the upcoming campaign.

Toyota Camry of the Michael Waltrip Racing team

Michael told the assembled media he’d first been invited to tour TRD’s motorsports facility last summer, and realized that Toyota had the facilities and strength to help him realize his long-held dream of becoming a Cup Series car owner. Toyota also plans to enter Busch Series racing come 2007, though so far there has been no official announcement about teams or drivers. Waltrip, though, indicated he plans to make his Aaron’s Dream Machine Busch Series team into a Camry-bodied entry. Michael has retained the backing of his major sponsors, including NAPA, for the new effort.

Davis Racing pilot Dave Blaney was also on hand for the announcement and indications are he will remain the driver of the 22 car as it makes the transition into the Toyota camp.

BDR has been a Toyota truck series stalwart the past couple of seasons, a move that cost the Davis team a substantial Cup Series deal with Dodge. Tuesday night’s announcement brings that manufacturer swap full-circle.

Before Tuesday’s Toyota event, Robby Gordon Motorsports hosted those on the Media Tour for a brief announcement as well. The rumor mill had Gordon joining Toyota for much of the day Tuesday, and Robby as well as Jim Beam officials jokingly denied any intentions to switch manufacturers come 2007. Instead, Robby confirmed he’ll continue with his own Chevrolets carrying the number 07 with principal backing from the liquor brand. Gordon’s team will also continue using DEI engines this coming season, signifying a solidification of his plans much sooner than in the previous campaign.

Gordon, one of the world’s busiest racers, is confident the coming season will be his best yet in NASCAR. He says his team is starting to jell, his engine supply should be stronger and more reliable, and their cars are improving week by week. Gordon is never lacking in confidence; now it’ll be a question of whether he and his team can deliver once they start racing for real.

Wednesday’s Tour activities open at the shops of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, and will also include the annual visit to Hendrick Motorsports. Undoubtedly both car owners will be quizzed about Toyota’s NASCAR plans. We’ll have the details here.

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