June 25, 2009
By Doug Demmons
It was just two and half years ago that the mere mention of Toyota being part of NASCAR prompted derisive snickering.
Superior American cars would wipe the garage floor with those Camrys and they’d be heading back to Tokyo with their tails between their legs. Or so the bravado went.
And remember those predictions about how Joe Gibbs was going to wreck his team by switching to Toyota?
So who’s laughing now?
Toyota -- the evil invaders crashing our all-American sport -- are suddenly the saviors of NASCAR, the white knights, the cavalry charging over the hill.
Still don’t think so?
Just ask Richard Petty, who’s still waiting on that check he’s supposed to get from bankrupt Chrysler.
Or how about Richard Childress, who’s a couple million short on payments from bankrupt General Motors.
Or perhaps JR Motorsports or Kevin Harvick Inc., who got their Dear John letters from Chevy recently.
Red Bull, on the other hand, is considering a jump from Toyota to Chevy. Doing that would make Red Bull a customer of Chevy rather than a subsidized team, but that’s not likely a problem for Red Bull’s billionaire owner, Dietrich Mateschitz.
Yes, Toyota is suddenly very popular. Richard Petty Motorsports is tired of waiting for the check from Dodge and is considering a jump to Toyota. Can you blame them?
If someone had predicted three years ago that one day the King of NASCAR would be looking to Toyota to give him shelter from the economic storm, he’d probably have been sent for a drug test.
But what’s most amazing is that Toyota hasn’t fallen all over itself to get Petty signed on the dotted line. Can’t you just imagine tuning in to watch the Daytona 500 next year and seeing a Toyota commercial with the King urging Americans to buy Japanese cars?
Such a thing would have been blasphemy just a few years ago. So would a photo of Petty sipping wine in Victory Lane at Sonoma with the team of the Budweiser-sponsored car.
But a lot of troubled waters have gone under the bridge in recent years. And a lot more are still to come. People are doing what they have to do to survive. Loyalty to a manufacturer is a wonderful thing, but loyalty doesn’t meet the payroll.
Times change. Yesterday NASCAR belonged to Chevy, Ford and Dodge. Tomorrow it might well be Honda, Hyundai and BMW calling the shots.
Of course, some things will never change. Jack Roush, for instance. If you ever hear Roush starting to say nice things about Toyota you’ll know that the apocalypse is upon us.
Doug Demmons is a writer and editor for the Birmingham News ~ he writes daily and weekly auto racing columns ranging from NASCAR to open wheel to Formula One, local tracks and more... you can read Doug's columns online at Blog of Tommorow
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.