As Toyota embarks on its first season in Nextel Cup, established teams from U.S. manufacturers are complaining about unfair business practices.
http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/16684512.htmFear is heightened, the tension is rising and Jack Roush is ready to go to ``war.''
The NASCAR season doesn't get under way for another five days, but the longtime car owner has been more apt to talk about new Cup manufacturer Toyota using warlike rhetoric than endearing niceties.
''We will not be intimidated by any new team or manufacturer that comes in,'' said Roush, who fields five Ford cars in Nextel Cup. ``Toyota will not find that established teams will wither in their path. We're going to war with them, and they should give us their best shot.
``I'm preparing myself for siege.''
Roush has been one of the most outspoken critics about Toyota's entry into Cup as the series' first full-time foreign manufacturer, but he is hardly alone in his concerns. Many in NASCAR circles argue the Japanese automaker -- which will field seven Cup teams this season -- has begun to alter the landscape of the series.
Toyota teams weren't a threat in Daytona 500 pole qualifying Sunday, with only one car in the top 15 and Michael Waltrip's car being confiscated after his run because NASCAR officials discovered an unknown substance in his engine. There are eight Toyota cars vying to start in the Daytona 500, and six must qualify on speed.
Off the track, Toyota's moves have caused concern. Dan Davis, director of Ford Racing Technology, characterized Toyota's practices as predatory because of the way it has lured drivers and top crew and engineering talent from existing teams with high salaries.
Lee White, senior vice president and general manager of Toyota Racing and Development, said it's ''unnerving'' that Toyota has been cast as a foreign invader, even though its Camry is the only NASCAR Cup car built in the United States. The Ford Fusion is built in Mexico, and the Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Monte Carlo are built in Canada. White also said Toyota is a major player in the American economy because the company and its dealers employ nearly 150,000 Americans.
But in NASCAR, there are worries because, just as Toyota is surging worldwide, American manufacturers are facing a bleak forecast. Toyota is projected to overtake General Motors as the world's biggest car maker this year; Ford, which last month reported a staggering $12.7 billion in losses for 2006, is expected to drop to No. 3 in U.S. sales.
The deep pockets of Toyota and its teams are driving up salaries, devaluing sponsorships and prompting some owners to look for outside financial support, several owners said. But Toyota officials disputed claims they are disrupting the financial equilibrium in the sport.
The operating cost for a major Cup team ranges from $16 million to $20 million a year, and Ford representative Kevin Kennedy said the Toyota teams are being subsidized, which has allowed them to charge a primary sponsor $8 million to $10 million -- half the market price.
''The sponsorship market has been affected because of the amount of upfront cash that Toyota is willing to put into teams,'' Kennedy said. ``It's allowed them to take major sponsors and pay less for the same product.''
Owners Roush and Ray Evernham have been the most vocal about needing outside investors to contend with Toyota teams. Evernham, who fields three Dodge cars, is actively searching for potential backers.
Roush is expected to announce Wednesday in Daytona Beach that he has struck a deal to sell a 50 percent stake in his racing operation to a group of investors led by Boston Red Sox owner John Henry.
Assertions that Toyota is upsetting the way established teams operate didn't resonate with Jim Aust, the president and chief executive officer of Toyota Racing and Development USA. He said the manufacturer and its teams have set budgets.
Waltrip, who will field three Camry teams, said Toyota isn't writing most of the checks.
''If you add up all the money I get from my sponsors and you compare it to what Toyota gives me, it's 10-to-1 at least,'' Waltrip said. ``It's really interesting for people to say Toyota has given the teams the money and funded them. They have not given us near the money our sponsors have given us.''
One of the biggest gripes from owners is they're paying more to keep their personnel from leaving for Toyota jobs.
Owner Chip Ganassi, who is affiliated with Dodge, said Toyota teams have raised ''everybody's salary level'' in NASCAR race shops throughout North Carolina. He estimated as high as a $1 million increase in annual payroll for at least the next couple of years thanks to the standard being set by Toyota teams.
PAY TO PLAY
Driver salaries, which are usually a tightly guarded secret in NASCAR, also have become a contentious subject.
Dale Jarrett's jump from Ford mainstay to Toyota newcomer -- with a two-year, $20 million deal to drive for upstart Michael Waltrip Racing -- has been often cited by Ford officials as a prime example of Toyota's impact.
Waltrip and Toyota officials have denied Jarrett's contract figures, and Toyota executives went so far as to say the manufacturer doesn't finance driver salaries.
''There's only one way you can persuade people to move in [the] capitalistic society that we have -- it's wages,'' Aust said. ``It's not Toyota that pays for whoever all the teams are hiring. The teams are the ones that are actually hiring these people.''
Kennedy said: ``[The money is] coming from somewhere. We cannot be getting in a spending war with them.''
The back-and-forth likely will continue on the track this season. Roger Penske, who owns two Dodge cars, conceded: ``These are serious, serious competitors. I say let's compete with them.''
When asked why he was scared of Toyota, Roush responded, ``Did I say I was scared? I don't back away from a good fight.''
Toyota's brave new world
With Toyota set to enter NASCAR's Cup series, some highlights of the Japanese manufacturer's racing history:
• NASCAR Craftsman Trucks: In 2004, its inaugural season, Toyota teams had four victories and five poles. Toyota has improved each year, and last season, Toyota won its first Trucks championship with Germain Racing driver Todd Bodine. In 2006, Toyota drivers had 12 victories and 14 poles, and seven drivers finished in the top 10.
• Busch Series: Toyota is powering three Busch cars this season and will make its debut Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.
• Nextel Cup: Toyota has seven full-time Camry Cup teams this season divided among Michael Waltrip Racing, Bill Davis Racing and Team Red Bull. Toyota officials, drivers and owners admit there is a tough road ahead because most of the teams must qualify on speed to make the first five races of 2007. Dale Jarrett is guaranteed a spot on the Daytona 500 grid because he is a past champion; Dave Blaney, who drives for Bill Davis, also has a spot locked up because he finished in the top 35 in owner's points last year driving the No. 22 Dodge (the top 35 are guaranteed starting spots).
Jack Roush is a hypocrit. When he first came into NASCAR he came in with enough money to race unsponsored for 3 seasons.Z28Wilson said:Jack Roush isn't dumb; he knows the competitive advantage Toyota will have because like anything else, money talks. He might sound like a whiner, but he does have a point, and I don't blame him for wanting to make sure NASCAR keeps things balanced and competitive. Isn't that what you want to see if you're a NASCAR fan?
I'm not going to lie, I don't know crap about Nascar, but I do know baseball. John Henry the owner of the Red Sox (and has a ton of money) purchased 50% of Roush racing....maybe some of Roush's money ran dry.Octane said:enough money to race unsponsored for 3 seasons..