Editorial by: Jeff Kluss /SIT (July 24, 2008 )

Nothing like NASCAR making a mid-season rule change to get the controversy going again. It’s pretty apparent to the fan and insiders that NASCAR was inducing Toyota to jump into the game two seasons ago by letting motor specifications slide that Ford, Chevy, and Dodge had been subjected to in order to “level the playing field”.

The question that comes to mind is “How fair was this to the other manufacturers, non-Toyota teams, and even Toyota?”. An oversight or blind eye turned toward the engine heads as they relate to angles to the block, in-take, and valves gave Toyota anywhere from a 20 to 25 horsepower advantage, as well as saved them from re-engineering at substantial cost. Below is the rule change that has the motorsports world roaring:

“At all Events, unless otherwise specified, all engines with a cylinder bore spacing less than 4.470 inches must compete using a tapered spacer with four (4) 1.125-inch diameter holes. At all Events, unless otherwise specified, all engines with a cylinder bore spacing of 4.470 inches or more must compete using a tapered spacer with four (4) 1.100-inch diameter holes. Unless otherwise authorized, the carburetor restrictor will be issued by NASCAR.”
— Amendment to Section 20A — 5.10.4, Nationwide Series Rule Book

Seems as though NASCAR is able to have their cake and eat it to, so to say. They induce Toyota to participate in the Nationwide Series (still having a problem not calling it Busch Series) expeditiously by letting them slide at the expense of the other manufacturers and then in the middle of their second season hit them with a tapered spacer or as we commonly call it “restrictor plate” which reduces their horsepower ratings by 25 horses. Once again, NASCAR makes a rule change that really doesn’t provide anything other than aggravation by all which could have been avoided by subjecting Toyota to the same provisions from the “get-go”. Sure, Toyota would have been another season out in getting in the game and may not have made the major investments in taking advantage of NASCAR’s desire to get them involved as early as they did. But it would have been better to have them do it right from the start versus upsetting the fans, drivers, and non-Toyota teams………and now Toyota and their teams are paying the price. Nothing like leveling the playing field when it should never have been favored to Toyota’s advantage in the first place. Toyota has won 14 of 21 Nationwide races this season, with cars fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing accounting for 13 victories. The No. 20 JGR Camry has won nine times, with four different drivers behind the wheel!

In talking with my dear friend Jack “Iron Man” Ingram who received 5 Championship rings in this division, he told me that Chevrolet had made the same pitch to NASCAR years ago concerning head and intake configuration only to be turned down flat. Of course we all know that the Toyota engine design was purchased from GM since they didn’t have a successful 8 cylinder design to make them competitive. Well it appears that another band-aid approach to fixing another problem which never should have happened has been supplied by NASCAR. This isn’t the first, and I’m sure it will never be the last band-aid type of logic that NASCAR will create at the expense of the sport.

What has prompted this bit of editorializing was the press release that was received this morning which has been posted below:

Lee White President and General Manager TRD, U.S.A. (Toyota Racing Development) 07/24/2008

“We’re extremely disappointed in NASCAR’s decision.  In our opinion, there is no technical justification to penalize the Toyota engine utilized in the Nationwide Series.  Toyota always has, and will continue to, abide by all NASCAR-mandated engine specifications and the Nationwide engine was built strictly to NASCAR specifications.

“The success of the Toyota Camry this year in the Nationwide Series is the result of hard work and achievement by all of our race teams — Braun Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Germain Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing — working in conjunction with TRD U.S.A. (Toyota Racing Development). All the tireless efforts by our teams, TRD and Triad during the off-season, at pre-season testing and during the first half of the year, combined with extremely talented drivers, have produced exceptional results. “Despite this setback, we will continue to work diligently to keep our Nationwide teams competitive. Our hope remains that a Toyota team or driver will be rewarded with a championship at the conclusion of this year.

“Unfortunately, the decision by NASCAR could be more far-reaching than simply mandating Toyota to adjust its Nationwide engine.  The real impact will be felt by the Toyota teams as they adjust to the change, work to remain competitive for the remainder of this season and attempt to line up their sponsorships for next year.”

At first take it seems as though it was sour grapes on the part of Mr. White and Toyota. But thinking further, I can’t say as I blame them since the rules were made to give Toyota a variance above the other players to induce their heavy investment into a sport that was in dire need of a major infusion to boost ticket sales…..especially into the Craftsman Series as well. It was a package deal to lure them into the sport and NASCAR threw in the kitchen sink at the expense of others.

Don’t think that this is about anything other than MONEY. The great money-making machine known as NASCAR has made another foo-pah which was a ticking time-bomb in the making. Yes, we all love the sport of NASCAR racing. Yes, this will probably not affect our love of the game. But it sure is disappointing to think that another episode of favoritism shown for the sake of bucks has levied another blemish on something we all believe is the sport of champions, excellence, and just good clean Americanism. Wasn’t Enron an American company?