Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Joe Gibbs Racing's move to Toyota to be announced Wednesday
By Angelique S. Chengelis
Joe Gibbs Racing's move to Toyota will be announced Wednesday during an 11 a.m. news conference at the team headquarters in Huntersville, N.C.
Jim Aust, vice president of motorsports for Toyota and CEO of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) and Lee White, senior vice president of TRD, will be in attendance, along with Joe Gibbs Racing officials and drivers Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin.
While the news of the JGR's switch from GM to Toyota broke late last week, Toyota officials have remained mum on the subject. Joe Gibbs Racing's contract with GM was up after this season, and, sources said, the manufacturer gave JGR its release Tuesday.
Hall of Fame Racing, partners with Joe Gibbs Racing, also will switch from Chevrolet to Toyota in 2008, as reported by ESPN.com on Sunday. JGR supplies engines, chassis and bodies to HFR in a lease agreement.
While Toyota officials have reserved official comment until Wednesday's news conference, JGR's newest driver, Kyle Busch, who will join the three-car team next season, said last Friday at California Speedway that he was well aware during negotiations with the team that it planned to switch to Toyota.
"I'm fine with it," Busch said. "The Gibbs people kept us in the loop every step of the way. I knew it was a possibility. They did what they felt was right and I think they are going in the right direction. The change really affects the crew chiefs and engineers more than the drivers. The motors are the biggest difference because all the cars [Car of Tomorrow models] are almost the same now."
JGR also is busy working on contract extensions with Hamlin and Stewart. Hamlin is signed with JGR through 2010 and the team would like a contract that locks him up through 2013. Gibbs also is actively working on extending Stewart's contract. He currently is signed through 2009.
The move to Toyota draws an end to JGR's 16-year relationship with GM. The team earned three series championships, including two with Stewart, under the GM banner. A GM official said Tuesday the manufacturer was not prepared to comment.
The Toyota NASCAR Cup series lineup for 2008 will be: Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Team Red Bull, Bill Davis Racing and Hall of Fame Racing.
Toyota entered NASCAR Nextel Cup racing this year and has struggled. There have been few highlights, but Toyota driver Brian Vickers had a manufacturer-best finish of fifth at Lowe's Motor Speedway in May, and Dave Blaney earned the pole at New Hampshire in June. Toyota had two drivers finish in the top 10 at Michigan International Speedway in August.
Toyota made its first foray into NASCAR in 2004 with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. It won the manufacturer's title in 2006.
Angelique S. Chengelis is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage.