Saturday, February 28, 2009
Toyota scrambling to fix motor problems
LAS VEGAS -- The president of Toyota Racing Development said he was embarrassed by a rash of engine problems that forced four motor changes at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Lee White said the engine issue, which first popped up last week at California, appeared to be related to lubricants and coolings in the motors that TRD builds at its Costa Mesa, Calif., factory. The motors for Brian Vickers, Scott Speed, David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose all had to be pulled after qualifying Friday. Vickers also had to switch motors last week after winning the pole in California, as did Michael Waltrip.
Kyle Busch, the pole-winner for this Sunday's race, also changed a Toyota motor on Friday, but his was built by Joe Gibbs Racing and the issue was unrelated to the TRD problems.
White said TRD thought the issue was resolved after California, and was bothered that changes the company made didn't work.
"We thought (the change) was the right direction," White said. "I'm disturbed to say that the right direction apparently was the wrong direction. We came here and thought we had a handle on it. We didn't. We made it worse."
TRD is using different lubricants and coatings on the motors now in place for Sunday, and five additional engines were sent from Costa Mesa to be on hand in case additional switches were needed after Saturday's practice session. All the TRD motors appeared to be free of the problem following a post-practice inspection late Saturday afternoon.
The problem appears within the first 75 miles of use, and once an engine passes that mark, it is good for the remainder of the race.
"We're going to use a heavier lubrication and not try to squeeze every ounce of horsepower out of them," said White, who estimated the difference will be between four and five horsepower.
"Four or five horsepower is not insignificant in this league. No driver in the world would give it up willingly. But every team ... needs to get to the end. Our goal is to give them the best shot."
SAFER RACE: Jeff Gordon feels secure on the track at Las Vegas a year after one of the worst wrecks of his career.
Gordon spun coming out of Turn 2 in last year's race and slammed into the inside retaining wall. The hit, at a portion of the track where energy-absorbing barriers had not been installed, was so hard it knocked the radiator out of his car.
The four-time series champion was extremely critical of the track after the accident, and speedway officials responded by installing SAFER barriers around the 1.5-mile facility.
"I'm confident in Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and in the comments that were made last year and the conversations I had with them last year and this year of what their plans were," he said. "I feel good about what they've done and seeing it at a slower pace without hitting it."
Gordon said he's never seen footage of the accident.
UNDER THE WEATHER: Jamie McMurray had the fastest Ford in Saturday's final practice session, but a bout with the flu prevented him from feeling good about his chances at a win.
McMurray, seventh fastest overall, headed to the infield care center after practice to ask for new medication.
"The medicine that I've got right now is not really working," said McMurray, who fell ill Tuesday night. "You think you'd be better by now and I'm not, so I'm going to see if they'll give me something else to help with my chest. My eyeballs are the biggest issue right now. There's a lot of pressure on them and when the car loads up in the corner it really hurts my eyes."
McMurray was also ill the week of the season-opening Daytona 500, as were several other drivers.
MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO: Minutes before the start of the final Sprint Cup Series practice, several of the top drivers in NASCAR could be seen running through the garage.
Jeff Burton led Brian Vickers, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards as they weaved in and out of groups of fans trying to get to their cars.
The drivers had just left the pre-race meeting for the Nationwide Series race, when Burton broke into a trot. The rest then followed him, even though they all made it to their garage stalls with plenty of time to spare before the start of practice.
FAST CARS: Jimmie Johnson, a three-time winner at Las Vegas, was the fastest driver in the final practice Saturday.
He led teammate Jeff Gordon, Sam Hornish Jr., Kurt Busch, and teammate Mark Martin. Defending race winner Carl Edwards was ninth fastest.
The only issue Saturday was minor, when rookie Joey Logano lightly tapped the wall following a spin.