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Saturday, March 24, 2007
Toyota ramping up help for teams

By David Newton and Terry Blount
ESPN.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Toyota is taking aggressive measures, similar to the way it moved into the Craftsman Truck Series, to improve its Nextel Cup teams.

Lee White, the general manager for Toyota Racing Development, said Saturday that TRD engineers are preparing a car from Michael Waltrip Racing that the struggling Waltrip could use at a future 1.5-mile track.

He said TRD also has offered to build a Car of Tomorrow road-course car for Bill Davis Racing and a COT superspeedway car for Team Red Bull to use at the second Talladega race.

But White insisted Toyota will not centralize the construction of Cup cars the way it did its trucks.

"We're not getting into production-car business," he said. "This is one car. It's one project. Every step of the way with this one car, every team shares every shred of information.

"So if the Bill Davis guys see something they like, they can build the same car. There's a timeline for it to be finished. Then there's the whole regimen of testing and evaluation … everything we can do dynamically to understand this car."

White said four days are scheduled for Waltrip, who has missed the last four races, to test the car that was driven by Dale Jarrett at California. He said if the car ever gets into a Cup event it would be at the May race in Charlotte.

"Last night, we had engineers that might have come here," White said. "Last night, they went home and started dismantling that car shred by shred and weighing every component. Do a CG [center of gravity] analysis. Do a complete suspension analysis.

"So, literally, our group of people along with his group of people worked right through the night. They'll finish that part of the project tonight. We're paying overtime for that, by the way. So that demonstrates our commitment and our people's commitment."

White said the car will then go to Bill Davis' shop in the High Point, N.C., area and be put on a chassis machine, measured, checked and rechecked.

"If our engineers see anything they think needs to be changed, it'll be changed as far as the chassis goes," White said. "There's a timeline for that to finish, and it's days, not weeks.

"It will go back to Waltrip, and our engineers are coming up with a suggested body to go on that car and Michael's guys will re-body the car."

White said he is encouraged by the progress Toyota has made the past month, particularly getting five of seven cars into Sunday's inaugural COT race at Bristol Motor Speedway after a subpar test last month.

He said the company remains patient, understanding it will take time to make a mark in NASCAR's premier series. He hopes sponsors will remain patient as well, particularly NAPA, the primary sponsor of Waltrip's car.

"Toyota is not a company that rolls heads easily or in a very quick fashion," he said. "Toyota is a company that honors its agreements and we have an agreement with our teams that is multiyear.

"Michael is not going to keep running the way he's demonstrated over five of 36 races. It's a little bit early in the program to be predicting someone's execution here."

White added that Toyota is nearing a deal with a Busch team to run a few COT Cup road courses this year. He said Wyler Racing, which fields the Toyota Tundra driven by Jack Sprague in the Truck Series, might participate in a COT race later this year.

He doesn't anticipate major expansion next season.

"Right now, in terms of engineering capacity and production capacity, we're pretty much tapped out," he said. "I wouldn't expect to see any sort of major expansion."

-- David Newton

Mighty Marlin
Of all the Cup drivers who didn't have a guaranteed spot in each race, Sterling Marlin is the only one who managed to qualify on speed in each of the first five races.

Marlin made it five-for-five Friday in the No. 14 Chevrolet when he was 21st in qualifying at Bristol.

The odds were against anyone below the top 35 guaranteed spots running fast enough to make it in all five events. Joe Nemechek and Johnny Sauter also had a chance to do it, but both drivers failed to make the show for the Food City 500.

--Terry Blount

How small are they?
Elliott Sadler said the Car of Tomorrow presents one problem on Sunday that few have considered.

"The pit boxes here are really small," Sadler said. "These cars are wider. It going to be tougher for us to get in and out without something happening."

Pole winner Jeff Gordon agrees, but thinks things will work out: "It's going to be a handful and a bit of a challenge, but I'm not overly concerned about it."

-- T.B.