Toyota giddy, GM despondent Toyota’s blockbuster move - signing Joe Gibbs, with Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, three of the top drivers in NASCAR - is one of the biggest coups in auto racing in quite some time. It may have been long in the making, perhaps since April, perhaps even back to last year, with secret trips to Japan.
But the announcement still comes as a stunner. Jim Aust, the head of Toyota’s racing operations, said he’s giddy about it all, now that it’s finally come down: “Oh, yes, yes. This is like winning the lottery - but at the moment you still only have the winning ticket. And you don’t realize just what you have until you get the money.
“You have to pinch yourself and say, ‘Wow! This is really happening.’ “It’s been in the making, but until you get the call.... And that only came recently.
“This is a fabulous opportunity, and there isn’t any manufacturer that wouldn’t trade places with Toyota right now.”
Over in the General Motors camp, the loss of Gibbs has been like a death in the family, an emotional loss for many, despite a stoic, “It’s just business,” front.
Has Gibbs made a major mistake in dumping GM - after 16 years, 58 Cup tour wins and three championships - for Toyota?
Maybe the question should be directed rather to GM’s Brent Dewar, overall head of racing: Why did he let Stewart, Hamlin and Busch get away?
And is Dewar worried that Gibbs, with key engine builder Mark Cronquist, and Toyota now have access to some of GM’s most important engine technology? Work on the new GM R-07 engine has been going on since 1998, and Cronquist has been at the heart of it.
Does Dewar feel he and GM just got stabbed in the back? In his first comments, he said he was “disappointed” in Gibbs’ move. And not mad as hell? Not hurt? What about loyalty?
“I’m not so much mad, I think disappointed was the word,” Dewar said. “We’ve been with them 16 years. I talked with Joe as late as Saturday, and they still had not decided, despite all the talk.
“We knew they were struggling with the decision. The way NASCAR is going they had some concerns.
“We continued to tell them we wanted them to stay. We love those drivers. They’re a big part of Team Chevrolet.
“But we also understand racing is a business. And I think they made a business decision. I think it was a tough decision for them to make, honestly.”
Aust: “I was just listening to Brent Dewar, and they were hopeful the decision would come their way. It didn’t. But they’ve been very gracious about what’s happened.
“GM has handled this with class, in accepting the decision. They’ve still got some great teams to run with next year, but there has to be some disappointment to lose an organization like Gibbs’. “I think it really came down to what J.D. (Gibbs, the team’s manager and boss’ son) said: That he and his organization had a vision and it’s the same vision Toyota has. That was what probably really turned it all in our favor, that we are an engineering organization, and Gibbs has a strong engineering operation too, and together we can only both get stronger." More at Winston Salem Journal
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