Friday 5: Toyota looking for more with Fords dominating first third of season
Although Toyota is ahead of pace for wins compared to last year when the manufacturer scored 16 Cup victories, the president of Toyota Racing Development isn’t satisfied.
Toyota has four wins this year — three by Kyle Busch and one by Martin Truex Jr. — but Ford has scored a series-high seven victories.
“I always use laps led as an indicator of performance because if you’re not leading laps than something is not right,” Toyota’s David Wilson told NBC Sports. “I think Dover, for the first time since Atlanta of 2017, a Toyota did not lead a lap. That was an alarm bell. That’s not acceptable. We recognize that we need to be better and we’re on it.”
Only one Toyota driver (Busch) ranks in the top five in laps led this season. Kevin Harvick has led 21 percent of all laps run this year. Busch is next at 12.7 percent.
Toyota won 14 of the final 19 races last year and scored the championship with Martin Truex Jr. So, why isn’t Toyota as dominant this year?
“We make no bones about it, Fords, the Ford camp … the No. 4 camp in particular is out front right now and kudos to those guys,’’ Wilson said, noting Harvick’s success. “I think what happened in the offseason with the flat splitter and the (Optical Scanning Station) clearly brought the field closer together, but our MO isn’t one to whine about it or complain about it.’’
Wilson admits Toyota had found advantages with the splitter and now that is gone with the rule change for this season.
“We were doing some really clever things with the front of our cars and year over year, we just lost some front downforce,’’ he said. “That’s why you hear a lot of our guys complaining about having tight race cars.’’
Wilson also spoke to NBC Sports about a couple of other topics.
On the need for a fourth manufacturer in Cup, Wilson said:
“When we came into this sport, we had four manufacturers with Dodge being the fourth. As soon as Dodge left, one of our first agenda points with NASCAR (was) to start beating the drum to get another manufacturer on board.
“With the size of the field, given the investment that each of us make, the sport will be healthy with another manufacturer, so again I know and trust that NASCAR is out there looking.’’
On the aero package run with restrictor plates run at the All-Star Race and what adjustments need to be made, Wilson said:
“I don’t think we want the drivers to be flat-footed all the time. We have the best drivers in the world and we’re putting them in a situation where some of them equated it to a video game. Most of them had fun. It was fun, but it was also the All-Star race and it wasn’t a points race. Again, these are the best drivers in the world. These cars should be hard to drive.”
2. Falling behind
Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 marks the halfway point in the 26-race regular season.
Kevin Harvick already has 24 playoff points — and that’s after he was penalized at Las Vegas and lost all seven playoff points for his victory ands stage wins. Kyle Busch is next with 17 playoff points.
No one else has more than seven playoff points.
Those points could mean the difference in advancing in the playoffs or going all the way to the championship round in Miami.
Denny Hamlin, who has one playoff point, understands the deficit he could be facing. Should Harvick and Busch continue to collect playoff points, they could give themselves a big enough advantage to make it to Miami provided they don’t have major issues in any of the rounds.
Martin Truex Jr. had such a large playoff point advantage last year that he qualified for Miami with one race left in the third round, leaving only one spot left in the championship field when the series headed to Phoenix for the final race of that round.
“That’s a continued concern for us,” Hamlin said. “That’s really what made us press so much in the second-to-last playoff stage last year. We knew there was essentially one spot available after those three had locked themselves in.
“We’re trying everything we can. We really have struggled with stage points. We’re finishing well. I’ve made a few mistakes on pit road this year and that has set us back on stage points. I think we’ve got to focus on stage points first then we worry about playoff points.”
3. Betting on NASCAR
Kevin Harvick is an interested observer in what will happen after a Supreme Court decision earlier this month struck down a 1992 federal law that banned commercial sports betting.
Delaware is on pace to be among the first states to have sports betting outside of Nevada. Dover International Speedway has a casino next to the track. NASCAR fans attending the Oct. 7 Dover playoff race could have their first chance to legally bet on a NASCAR event while attending that event.
Harvick has had segments on sports betting each of the past two weeks on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show. So what has he learned?
“I have more questions than answers just because of the fact that we have a couple of race tracks that have casinos on the property already,” Harvick said, alluding to Dover and Kansas Speedway.
“It seems like there’s a very good opportunity to get creative with a place like Dover that has that casino sitting there to have some creative betting during the race to really intrigue the fans – things that you could do from your phone or in the casino or just random stuff,” Harvick said. “Could you turn that track and race into an atmosphere like a horse race? I think there’s just a lot of questions and a lot of answers that need to be individually solved. That’s the interesting part is it’s going to come state by state, so who is going to lead that charge? Is it race tracks or is it NASCAR?”
Harvick stressed finding a way that some of the money bet filters back to the sports. The NBA seeks what it calls an “integrity fee” for all bets related to its events. Whether that is possible, remains to be seen.
Harvick also noted that a change that needs to be made is how TV money is distributed in NASCAR. Tracks keep 65 percent of the money from broadcasters, teams get 25 percent and NASCAR collects 10 percent. According to International Speedway Corp.’s 2017 annual report, broadcast and ancillary media rights accounted for 50.2 percent of total revenues for that year.
4. Special Day
Wednesday’s Hall of Fame selection proved poignant with Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison, who were killed within months of each other 25 years ago, joining the Class of 2019.
There are many special connections between those. One was a special observer. Tom Roberts is a long-time family friend of the Allisons. He served as Bobby Allison’s p.r. person for several years. He also worked with Kulwicki as his p.r. person. Roberts also has helped spearhead the Kulwicki Driver Development Program to help young drivers climb the ranks of racing.
Roberts had never attended the Hall of Fame announcement but came up from his Alabama home to witness Wednesday’s proceedings.
“It just felt right,” he said of seeing both make the Hall. “It will take a while to soak in (that both made it together).”
5. New winner?
An interesting stat for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 is that the top 11 qualifiers have never won this race.
Austin Dillon scored his first Coca-Cola 600 — and first Cup win — last year.
Kyle Busch starts on the pole and will be joined on the front row by Joey Logano.
The other drivers in the top 11 who have never won the 600 are: Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson.