OPINION: Toyota is struggling

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 16, 2007

Do you think that Toyota thought it would be like this? Entering the 2007 season, the anticipation for Toyota’s entrance into NASCAR was unprecedented.

But to say that the results through the first three races of the year have been anything more than disappointing would be a huge understatement.

Seven cars and three teams began Toyota’s foray into the stock car world. Of the 21 potential starts that the Toyota drivers could make, those drivers have only qualified in 10 of those races.

Dale Jarrett and Dave Blaney are the only drivers that have participated in all three races. Two of the drivers, A.J. Allemendinger and Jeremy Mayfield are still attempting to start their first race.

Toyota executives are no doubt concerned. If the beginning of the season is any indication, it will be a long and painful season for these guys.

After next week’s race at Bristol, starting positions will be guaranteed to the top 35 in 2007 owner’s points. Only Jarrett looks to be safe to be included in that group, and he sits in 32nd position in the current standings.

Perhaps the salt in the wounds for Toyota was the unfortunate incident at Daytona with Michael Waltrip. Hit with the largest monetary and points reduction fine in NASCAR’s history, Waltrip was caught with a foreign substance in the manifold of the engine of the no. 55 car.

NASCAR has indicated that the exact nature of the substance would not be released, but it has been speculated that the illegal substance was jet fuel. What a shame.

Waltrip is without a doubt the most visible face for Toyota, but only thirty seconds at a time—during commercial breaks.

He has only qualified for one race, the Daytona 500. Going into the season, it was my opinion that Waltrip would miss at least 10 races. I have changed my mind; he might only qualify for 10 races. And as for as top 35 in owner’s points, forget about it. Waltrip needs to get on the positive side of zero before he can worry about the top 35.

I only have to wonder how long the big money sponsors and the biggest player, Toyota, will sit back and continue to watch such pathetic performances.

Off we go to the fastest track on the circuit this weekend. The Kobalt Tools 500 in Sunday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Here’s hoping that we don’t hear the same whining and complaining that we heard last week at Las Vegas.

Don’t know about you, but I grew weary very quickly of all the complaining about the newly paved track and the tire combination that Goodyear decided to bring. C’mon guys, shut up and drive.

Bobby Labonte leads all active drivers with six career victories here and 12 other active drivers have visited Victory Lane at Atlanta.  My pick to win Sunday and hold on to the lead in the points is Mark Martin. What out, a Martin victory will stir up a huge hornets nest next week. Will he race at Bristol or not? Gonna be fun.

Jeff Findley can be reached by emailing jeff.findley@r-cnews.com.