‘We’re getting kicked in the teeth right now,’ admits Toyota’s Wilson

Nigel Kinrade/Motorsport Images

‘We’re getting kicked in the teeth right now,’ admits Toyota’s Wilson


‘We’re getting kicked in the teeth right now,’ admits Toyota’s Wilson


But after running so well at the beginning of the year, how did the switch get flipped? What happened?

Wilson looks back at Kansas, where Busch wrested the win from a dominant Larson after a rash of late cautions changed the race’s complexion. There were signs then of things to come, and now everyone is seeing Larson’s team put together full races and driving to their potential.

“You want to say, ‘Well, what are the Hendrick guys doing?’ And my thought on that is, it doesn’t matter,” said Wilson. “We can’t affect what they’re doing or not doing. We can only affect what we’re doing and what we have control of, and that’s what we’re focused on. The nature of our partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing is such that when we’re sitting together in competition meetings, it’s not focused on one party or another. We own the engine, that much is clear. That is our responsibility, and one of the first things that we’ve done is raise our hand and say we’re not good enough.

“A couple of weeks ago, when we saw that we were falling behind a little bit, we took some actions back at the shop to pull some of our stuff forward, to get more aggressive and bring the developments to the racetrack. The car, the chassis, the aero, the setups, while TRD doesn’t necessarily put our hands on each one of those areas, we do bring tools to the table for our team partners and crew chiefs to give them the direction that they can take in those areas. We go with them to the wind tunnel, we provide simulation, which provides the setups they choose to make at the racetrack.

“Those tools aren’t delivering to the quality and consistency that they need to. What I love about how we participate in the sport, you can’t really draw a line between where does Joe Gibbs Racing start or stop and TRD starts or vice versa. We’re shoulder to shoulder, and when the heat is on, we all feel it, and we all have the attitude that it’s on us collectively to respond.”

Wilson feels Toyota and its teams will have to get a bit more aggressive to overcome the performance advantage of the Hendrick Chevrolets, especially Kyle Larson’s No. 5. Nigel Kinrade/Motorsport Images

There is a clear horsepower advantage by Hendrick and Chevrolet. What the difference is hasn’t been corroborated, but it’s big enough to make the Hendrick cars look untouchable. Wilson said he doesn’t know how far ahead Chevy is or how far behind Toyota sits.

“I take responsibly for the fact that we need to be better,” said Wilson. “You can’t just focus on one area because we have the resources, we have the people that are as smart as anyone else in this garage, and the fact is you have to focus everywhere because, in the end, the only way to catch somebody who’s out front is your slope of improvement has to exceed their slope. Otherwise, you might be better, but they’re going to get better at the same pace.

“Clearly, over the last five weeks, their rate of improvement has been greater than our rate of improvement. That’s noticeable on Sunday afternoons, and it hasn’t made much of a different relative to whether we’re running a 550 spec or 750 spec (engine).”

The challenge is finding those areas to improve, considering NASCAR rules handcuff teams. There are parts freezes in place and regulations that don’t allow for much innovation because the garage has been gearing up for the Next Gen rollout. All Wilson can do is give credit to Hendrick Motorsports for finding advantages and admit the impetus is on Toyota to do the same.

“As crazy as it sounds, this energizes me because this is what we live for,” Wilson said. “This is typically what we’re good at — innovation and finding and discovering. I talked to our team on Tuesday, and it was one of the toughest meetings I’ve had all year. I was on the chip. I was emotional. In times like this, I look to other leaders for inspiration. I take a very humble approach — I do my best, but I’m not a natural-born leader — and I came across a couple of quotes that I just absolutely love and subscribe to.

“One of them is (from) Martin Luther King Jr., and the gist of it is the measure of a person isn’t when things are going well. The measure is when you’re in trouble and when the pressure is on and how you respond to it. The other one is a little more direct (from) Walt Disney in that sometimes when you’re getting kicked in the teeth, you don’t realize that’s a good thing; that’s what you need, is to be kicked in the teeth.

“We’re getting kicked in the teeth right now, and damn it, it’s time to kick back.”