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Bill Davis Racing happy with Toyota progress

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July 8, 2007

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Dave Blaney in the Bill Davis Racing Toyota
Toyota

With the exception of rival Nextel Cup manufacturers, few have been satisfied with Toyota’s pace of progress in its inaugural season at NASCAR’s top competitive level.

But Toyota’s substantial success in NASCAR’s other top divisions provides a sharp contrast in results, and Bill Davis Racing has been central to the manufacturer’s promising development, both on and off the track.

Dave Blaney, BDR’s featured NASCAR Nextel Cup driver in the #22 Caterpillar Camry, has delivered Toyota’s first pole position in both the Busch Series (California) and NNC Series (New Hampshire), as well as being standard bearer for the manufacturer’s Nextel Cup effort.

Blaney ranks highest in points (35th) among the seven full-time Toyota drivers, and has qualified for all but two of the 18 races to date, a rate more than 25 percentage points higher than the remainder of the Toyota stable.

Until by-passing the Milwaukee Busch Series race in June for his NNC commitment in Sonoma, Blaney ranked second in points for most of the season in the #10 Camry for owner Todd Braun, and is now ranked fourth as one of three Toyota drivers in the top-five in the manufacturer’s first Busch season.

On Saturday, Blaney added a third-place finish in the Busch race at Daytona to his runner-up effort during Speedweeks, Toyota’s top ’07 finish along with David Reutimann’s second-place finish at Nashville in April.

But it is in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series where Toyota’s long-term competition strategy is now at full-speed in its fourth season, magnifying the significance of the over-arching role of Bill Davis Racing and its High Point-based Triad Racing Development (TRD) component.

With TRD as primary supplier of the engines, chassis and bodies for every full-time Toyota Tundra team, the manufacturer has produced stunning results since the start of the 2006 campaign, led by the Toyota-branded flagship Tundras for BDR drivers Mike Skinner (#5) and Johnny Benson (#23).

At the mid-point of the 2007 season, Toyota leads the manufacturer’s standings by a sizeable margin in defense of its ’06 NCTS title, and has won half the 12 races and three-fourths of the pole positions among its six teams currently in the top-10 in the points—including defending NCTS champion Todd Bodine.

Skinner and Benson have been paramount to that performance, winning four times and claiming seven poles, as well as finishing in the top-five collectively in 66% of their starts in ’07. Skinner, the points leader by 103 over Ron Hornaday, has the series-leading average finish (4.13) by a wide margin, as well as the top driver rating (122.9 of 150), the top mark in laps-on-the-lead lap (98%) and the most miles led.


Dave Blaney
Toyota

In the latter category, Skinner—the NCTS first champion—has also led every race this season and can break the series mark for most consecutive races led at the start of a season by fronting the field during this weekend’s truck series race at Kentucky Speedway.

Together, Skinner and Benson have led more than one-third of all the NCTS miles run in ’07, up 11% from their impressive two-year mark (22.2%) for miles-led since the start of the 2006 season. In 74 cumulative starts for the Bill Davis Racing pair over the past 18 months, Skinner and Benson, the 2006 points’ runner-up, have won every 7.4 races, earned a pole position every 8.2 races, and boast imposing marks for top-five (50%) and top-10 (70%) finishes over the period.

“We were honored to be chosen to develop and produce the engines, chassis and bodies for the Toyota Tundra in NASCAR, and the overall plan that was set in motion with the participating teams for the program to mature and be successful is what we’re seeing now,” said Davis, now in his 19th season as a NASCAR owner. “With virtually all the teams using essentially the same primary pieces produced by Triad, there’s a consistency in results that we’re seeing now that was a goal when we started the process.

“We’re obviously proud of the performance of the BDR Tundras, and hope the #5 or #23 can follow up on the championship Todd won last year for Toyota. But we’re proud of the performance of all the Toyota teams because we in fact have a related interest through our TRD involvement in how every Tundra runs each race. The Camrys competing for the first time this season in the Busch Series are also using engines provided exclusively by Triad, and they’ve shown great promise in their first half-season.

“The level to which the Toyota truck series effort has risen may be a good barometer to where we hope to go with the Nextel Cup program in time. We had only modest success in our first full season with the Tundra (four Toyota wins in ’04, third in the manufacturer points), but we stayed the course with our plan for consistency, especially with the production process, and it’s paid off on the track for all the teams.”

And perhaps it is the performance of the third BDR Tundra with 26-year old Wisconsin driver Ryan Mathews that fully frames the quality of equipment produced by the Triad Racing Development operation, a sister company of Bill Davis Racing.

A late-spring replacement in the #36 BDR truck prior to the NCTS race at Mansfield, Ohio, Mathews had no prior NASCAR experience but has enjoyed an auspicious beginning over his first six races, qualifying in the top-15 for his past four starts (with a best of sixth at Milwaukee), and producing mid-teen finishes in all but one race before his sixth-place effort two weeks ago at Memphis.

Matthews is joined in the BDR developmental program by 21-year old Bobby Santos III, a lightning-fast Massachusetts midget series standout who has qualified in the top-10 for all but one of his eight ARCA and Busch Series starts for Bill Davis Racing and in the #91 Riley-D’Hondt partner program dating back to last fall’s impressive debut at Iowa Speedway.

This weekend, Santos will be making his second ARCA start of the season at Kentucky Speedway, where he started fourth and finished third in the first ARCA Series event there in mid-May, and will also enter the ARCA race at Talladega in October as well as the final seven Busch Series races of the 2007 season in the #91 Toyota Camry, beginning at Dover.

“We believe that Bobby Santos is the sort of driver who can become a franchise-type guy for both our team and in a long-term partnership with a sponsor, like Tony Stewart and Home Depot,” said Tommy Baldwin, Jr., BDR Director of Competition and interim crew chief for the #22 Caterpillar Camry.

“Bobby’s been fast everywhere he’s raced the stock cars so far. He’s been a winner at every level he’s raced. He’s adapted quickly to all he’s been exposed to over a short period. He’s the type of guy we’re hoping to build around as we grow the Toyota Nextel Cup program toward a level of success like the Tundras are having in the Craftsman Truck Series.

“It’s nice to be able to have a mix of experienced guys who have won championships like Dave (World of Outlaws), Mike Skinner (NCTS) and Johnny Benson (Busch Series) with young guys like Bobby and Ryan Mathews, who’s done a great job in a short time in the #36 BDR truck.

“The overall success on the track of the Tundras in the Truck Series as it relates to the relationship with Triad Racing Development and Bill Davis Racing is a good goal for all the Toyota Nextel Cup teams to work toward as we move ahead. And Skinner and Benson in particular are having seasons that mirror in a way the success that the Hendrick cars are having in the Cup Series this year.

“There’s no doubt it’s been a tough year to bring a new car to the track in Nextel Cup with the debut of the COT, and developing parallel programs with the ‘old’ car AND the ‘new’ car has been awkward for Toyota to manage. But we’re getting more positive test time with the new piece, as our pole at New Hampshire two weeks ago shows.

“We’ve got a good distance to go, but I feel we’re making progress. And we only have to look at the performance of the BDR trucks now and how that whole process has worked from the start to know where we CAN go in time.”

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