TRD tries to solve engine woes in time for Pocono

Toyota Racing Development tries to solve engine woes that have overshadowed successes

Associated Press
TRD tries to solve engine woes in time for Pocono
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Crew members push the car of Timmy Hill through the garage area during inspections for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pocono 400 auto race, Friday, June 7, 2013, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Russ Hamilton Sr.)

LONG POND, Pa. (AP) -- Toyota Racing Development has had the kind of success most manufacturers would love to boast about in the Sprint Cup garage.

Five wins and eight poles in the first 13 races should have TRD riding high. Instead, a few high-profile engine failures has drivers frustrated and TRD looking for answers in time for Sunday's race at Pocono Raceway.

So it was time for a team meeting.

David Wilson, named this week acting president and general manager of TRD, called drivers, crew chiefs and competition directors from Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing together on Friday morning to discuss the changes ahead and plans to boost the engine's durability.

That started with fine-tuning engines already in the cars headed to Pocono.

"It means it's going to be a little bit of a step back in performance," Wilson said. "Just getting them on board and being transparent with them has been helpful. The last thing we want is for them not to feel like a part of this."

TRD is struggling with durability, beginning with the Daytona 500 when Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch suffered engine failures within minutes of each other. Most recently, Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. both suffered engine failures in Sunday's race at Dover. Wilson said the valve train has been the main culprit for the engine woes.

Wilson said the key was to keep the season in perspective. Even if six failures have been unacceptable, there are enough checkered flags piling up to prove TRD has an overall grasp on handling its engines.

"Our drivers love the performance they're getting with the cars," Wilson said. "Crew chiefs are just killing it this year and the engines are strong. We're certainly happy about that."

But in order to win a championship, TRD has to have durability and drivers can't be racing wondering if their engine is next to blow.

"I'd much rather be in this position of saying, 'We've got the performance, now we need to focus on the durability,'" he said. "We've got a little bit of security with a couple of our drivers having notched a couple of wins."

Toyota drivers Clint Bowyer, Kenseth, and Busch are all in the top 10 in the points standings. Denny Hamlin, in 26th and in danger of missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, was encouraged by the meeting.

"They identified issues and talked about our short- and long-term plan to fix it," Hamlin said. "They're going to do everything they can to fix it."

Wilson was promoted this week after Lee White stepped down to tend to family health care needs. White joined Toyota in 1997 and took over the top job following Jim Aust's retirement in July 2008. He was responsible for all TRD North American motorsports activities in NASCAR, USAC, NHRA, Grand-Am and off-road competitions.

White was with teams that won approximately 1,000 races and 250 championships.

"The role that he played in helping bring our company into NASCAR was one of his biggest achievements," Wilson said. "He built a very robust organization around him."

It's the kind of organization Wilson would like to keep leading well into the future.

"I certainly hope I'm afforded that opportunity long term," he said. "If I do my job, I'm confident I will be."

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