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
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
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
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.
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
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
“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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