Never one to sugarcoat a situation, it was no surprise this week when Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson called the manufacturer’s NASCAR Cup Series performance “inconsistent.”
Toyota drivers have combined for four wins in 19 races entering New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET). It’s four wins between three (Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch) of the six Toyota drivers, and it took until the seventh race of the season at Richmond Raceway to break through.
“Arguably, we should be sitting on at least six or seven,” Wilson said. “I know year-to-date, we’ve probably given away two or three. We’ve lucked into one. So, on paper, it might be a little misleading, but on the other hand, to be nothing but candid, our performance has been inconsistent.
“One week, we have cars capable of running one through five and somehow we still screw up the finish, but the next week we can’t hit the broad side of a barn. It’s been a little frustrating, no doubt about it.”
Christopher Bell, Martin Truex Jr. and Bubba Wallace are winless. Bell is the driver on the playoff cutline with seven races left in the regular season. Wallace will likely need a win to clinch a postseason berth, given his points deficit to the cutline (-178).
“The most obvious area where we’re struggling right now is turning left and right. I believe we used to be ultra-competitive at road course races [and] certainly our drivers are the best in the business when it comes to road course racing, so it’s not on them,” Wilson said. “Clearly, we’re struggling to get a hold of this new platform and believe me, we have a tremendous amount of focus and effort. We all know the Charlotte Roval is looming as the cutoff in the second round of the playoff and could very well dictate Toyota’s position and fate in the playoffs.
“On the bright side, our target was to put five Toyota drivers into the playoffs — all four of the [Gibbs] drivers and at least one of the two 23XI drivers. Denny [Hamlin] has done his part as both a team owner and a driver. Now we need to get Martin and Christopher, who are still hanging on by a thread from a points perspective. We need to get them squarely into the winner’s circle and we’re working hard on that as we start wrapping our regular season races [up].”
Hamlin described his season as feeling like he’s been on a ride at Carowinds amusement park with the ups and downs. While Hamlin has two wins, he also has four DNFs and was 29th in points after the Las Vegas race weekend.
Toyota drivers have combined to lead 1,301 laps. Wilson acknowledged that the Next Gen car has made it easier for teams to be strong one weekend but off the next.
“I try and think of it in a positive light; it is kind of fun as an engineer and being engineering-centric to help solve this puzzle,” Wilson said. “But it’s becoming less fun every week as we continue to be inconsistent. No one is immune to it. Certain organizations, certain OEMs seem to be maybe a little further out front, but it’s the type of challenge that really tests our mettle and I love that because I know we have some of the best folks in this sport, and we’ll figure it out.”