Those stories were accompanied at Talladega last weekend by word through the garage area that Johnny Benson, who drives for Toyota in the truck series, has tested a Toyota stock car with a Solara body at his short track in Michigan. Patrick Wall, manager of Toyota Racing Development in High Point, confirmed that Toyota has participated in the discussions about the "Car of Tomorrow" and "Engine of the Future" which could bring as early as 2007 significant changes from the cars and engines used now. But, he said, Toyota's plans hinge on the timetable for implementation of the rules changes and that the only series Toyota will race in next year is the truck series. "We currently race trucks and we are looking at racing cars," Wall said. "We are doing an investigation into the best path for Toyota to get into car racing, and we are waiting on NASCAR to give us the timetable for the 'Car of Tomorrow' and 'Engine of the Future' before we determine what the best plan for us will be."
Wall said he expects NASCAR to announced the timetable for the future car and engine by the end of this month. The "Car of Tomorrow" is expected to incorporate more safety features, including a bigger greenhouse (area from windows on up). The "Engine of the Future" is expected to provide a common engine platform for all manufacturers. "It takes such a financial commitment to develop cars and engines that we want to see what direction NASCAR is going," Wall said. He denied that Toyota is developing a car to race in the Busch Series next year. "We are not working on any Busch cars," he said. He said that it did not make sense financially to develop a car now if the rules are to change significantly in the near future. "When you look at the cost involved, it takes a couple of years to get a payback on that investment," Wall said. He also denied that Benson or any one else has tested a Toyota stock car. "I can assure you that there has not been a Toyota-bodied stock car or a stock car with a Toyota engine [maybe a Ford or Chevy engine?] on a track anywhere on the planet since we raced in the NASCAR Dash Series with Robert Huffman in 2003," Wall said. High Point Enterprise
05/03/05 We are bumping this rumor up to 'strong' today and it will go to 'fact' around July 1st. According to this SPEED TV article, NASCAR has confirmed that Toyota intends to compete in the Busch Series in 2006 and is an active participant in discussions about the next generation of Nextel Cup cars and engines, which are slated to debut in 2007, or perhaps 2008. 05/02/05 The key issue in the NASCAR Cup garage at the moment is Toyota's apparently imminent step up to the Busch series next season, with an expected Nextel Cup debut in 2007. Toyota's NASCAR model is expected to be the Avalon, though some are looking at the Solara, too. Toyota, according to sources, wants to field two Busch teams next year, with engines provided by the company, as it has done with its NASCAR Truck program. However, NASCAR officials are reported to have told Toyota that it would have to provide support to at least five or six teams. Toyota is also reported to be bidding for some big-name NASCAR teams for its Busch effort, the biggest name mentioned being Chevy kingpin Rick Hendrick. GM executives insist they've got firm contracts with Hendrick for the next several years. However the Hendrick-Toyota questions have persisted, in part perhaps because Hendrick is one of the country's biggest Lexus dealers. Adding fuel to the Toyota-NASCAR issue are reports that Toyota plans to drop its IRL support at the end of the season (the company is spending nearly $100 million this year on its Indy-car program) and that Honda executives have indicated to IRL boss Tony George they don't plan to stick it out either if Honda is to become the only engine supplier to that series. Winston Salem Journal 04/30/05 NASCAR Nextel Cup Director John Darby confirmed Friday that Toyota is participating in discussions with NASCAR about the new engine and so-called “Car of the Future," both of which are expected to be introduced in 2007. This is the strongest indication yet that the giant Japanese automaker likely will enter the Nextel Cup Series, probably in 2007, though publicly it has not committed to doing so — yet. But at the very least, Toyota seems committed to the Busch Series for ’06, as Darby said. Toyota intends to submit a new car and engine to NASCAR by July 1, Darby said, the first steps necessary for Toyota to compete in the Busch Series next year. “They’re involved in our engine conversation," Darby said of Toyota. “There’s an anticipation of them joining us in the Busch Series next season. I know they’re working on a car right now for submittal." Asked if he thought Toyota’s arrival would be good for the sport, reigning Cup champ Kurt Busch said, “Definitely. They’ll bring in more sponsorship dollars, more interest. When we got these new tracks for two dates — Phoenix, Texas, California — people are familiar with Toyotas. They know what they’re about." Busch’s car owner, Jack Roush, is adamantly opposed to Toyota’s presence in NASCAR, however, and privately, team owners are worried that the Japanese automaker will drive up the price of racing. Speed Channel 04/27/05 There are no really outrageous salaries in NASCAR as there are in some other professional sports. Not that any of the drivers is really complaining. Hanging over the sport is the effect that Toyota might have when it enters stock-car racing. Toyota executives may handle all driver contracts at the corporate level, instead of leaving it up to individual team owners. And Toyota has considerable cash in the bank for whatever it might want to do, because the company is the most profitable of the automakers at the moment. Might Toyota come in and spend whatever it takes to get whichever driver it wants? Executives at Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler may have to ante up themselves to keep prized drivers in the fold.
Toyota appears to be cranking up things for a 2006 Busch effort, with a Nextel Cup project planned for 2007 – and it may need some drivers. And not just one or two, because NASCAR is expected to insist that Toyota back at least six teams when it steps up. Cary Agajanian, one of auto-racing's top agents, negotiated a blockbuster contract for Stewart in 2003 that runs through the end of 2009 and is reported to be worth $10 million a year in straight salary, plus ancillary income. Agajanian's other NASCAR clients are Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Green, Jason Leffler, Dave Blaney and Jamie McMurray, with McMurray perhaps the biggest name that Agajanian has in play for a new contract.
Agajanian said that NASCAR doesn't have any influence in driver contract negotiations. "I don't think NASCAR has anything to do with it, seriously," Agajanian said. "Each team negotiates what it thinks is a fair salary. Owners can set percentages of what they need to pay, and it's not just for drivers but also crew chiefs and tire changers. Everyone gets paid somewhat similarly. It's a true laissez-faire system, and the better drivers get paid more."
Perhaps a lot more if Toyota comes in. Toyota is spending $98 million on its Indy Racing League program, and that money, maybe more, is expected to be moved to the NASCAR account soon. Toyota may march to a different drummer.
"If a corporate sponsor is willing to overpay market-value by 30 or 40 percent, they can turn the garage into a have-and-have-not situation, that can't be overcome. "NASCAR will have to keep a very close eye on this, to ensure no one upsets the balance. And the economic conditions in the auto industry, of the four players in the sport right now, only one has this giant surplus of cash that could be used to alter the dynamic of our sport – Toyota, which is in the strongest cash and marketing position in the world. That's a red flag for me, and I'm sure it is for GM, Chrysler and Ford, too. We all try to spend at relative levels and not drive costs up." Excerpts form Winston Salem Journal
04/26/05 Toyota executives may handle all driver contracts at the corporate level, instead of leaving it up to individual team owners. And Toyota has considerable cash in the bank for whatever it might want to do, because the company is the most profitable of the automakers at the moment. Might Toyota come in and spend whatever it takes to get whichever driver it wants? Executives at Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler may have to ante up themselves to keep prized drivers in the fold. Toyota appears to be cranking up things for a 2006 Busch effort, with a Nextel Cup project planned for 2007 – and it may need some drivers. And not just one or two, because NASCAR is expected to insist that Toyota back at least six teams when it steps up. Toyota is spending $98 million on its Indy Racing League program, and that money, maybe more, is expected to be moved to the NASCAR account soon. Winston Salem Journal