Commentary

No love lost between owner Roush and Toyota exec White

It's no secret that team owner Jack Roush has a personal distaste for all things Toyota. It's Roush and Ford feeling the biggest threat from the foreign manufacturer, writes Terry Blount, so they're screaming the loudest.

Updated: March 8, 2008, 5:35 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Even Jack Roush's heart was warmer than the weather at Atlanta Motor Speedway Saturday.

Snowy conditions were cold and harsh, similar to the feelings Roush has for Toyota and his old buddy Lee White, Toyota's GM of racing.

When in doubt, blame it on Toyota is a common theme in the garage, but it's also Roush's mantra.

His extreme hatred for Toyota boiled over again Friday. He was livid after learning White accused Roush Fenway Racing of deliberately cheating in a USA Today article.

That Panama hat Roush wears was spinning off faster than the oil tank lid on Carl Edwards' car.

We won't recount all the rhetoric, but the war of words was on. Roush called White "an ankle-biting Chihuahua." White said he was a big boy and could take any insult Roush dished out.

Fun stuff all around. NASCAR's plan of letting drivers show their emotions apparently includes team owners and corporate executives.

This is one sweet feud that isn't going away anytime soon. And the paranoia about Toyota goes deeper than one little man with a Napoleon complex.

Roush is the guy willing to publicly rag on Toyota at every opportunity, but he isn't alone. When the Camrys were the fastest cars in preseason testing, you could hear the whining from Daytona to Charlotte.

Chevy, Dodge and Ford teams couldn't believe the Toyotas had more horsepower than everyone else. The competing teams howled, wondering whether a Congressional investigation was in order.

All this fear and complaining about a manufacturer that has yet to win a Sprint Cup race. But victories are coming soon in the Toyota camp, and everyone knows it.

Toyota remains the outsider in NASCAR. To some, it's the big, bad foreigner who's going to ruin our world.

Some fans never will accept it, a racing version of xenophobia. Keep it American manufacturers only and leave NASCAR the way it was.

If that's all you feel, get ready for a disappointment. NASCAR has a 2008 theme of returning to its roots, but Toyota is here to stay.

And while we're at it, NASCAR isn't going to bring a Cup race back to Rockingham or North Wilkesboro or Hickory or any other Carolina track from the past. Not next year, not ever. Get over it.

But back to Toyota. Roush is the front man for the competing teams that fear Toyota will outspend everyone, steal all the good people in the garage and crush the competition with tsunami-like destruction.

It hasn't happened yet, of course, and it won't happen.

Toyota still is a long way from becoming the dominant force in Cup. Adding Joe Gibbs Racing this year has raised the bar, but a series takeover isn't imminent.

Kyle Busch leads the standings in his JGR Camry, but Toyota's other three teams still struggle to climb the Cup totem pole. Brian Vickers is 13th entering Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500, the only non-JGR Toyota driver that ranks better than 31st.

It's only three races, but the Chase qualifiers for the moment include four Chevrolets, four Dodges, two Fords and two Toyotas.

Ford is down to eight cars in Cup racing, and Roush Fenway Racing is its only competitive team.

The two Yates Racing cars now are under RFR support and Wood Brothers Racing is limping along as one of the few single-car teams left.

Ford will have seven cars on the starting grid Sunday. Toyota has 10, Dodge 12 and Chevy 14.

Get the picture? It's Ford and Roush feeling the biggest threat from Toyota, so they scream the loudest.

But White and Toyota should take it in stride. For over 20 years, Roush has felt everyone in NASCAR was out to get him.

The man should be thrilled that his team is running well and has three drivers who can contend for the title -- Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle.

But if Roush isn't complaining, he isn't breathing. When his Car of Tomorrow entries weren't competitive early last year, his excuse was he followed testing rules while the other teams didn't.

He still makes that argument at every opportunity, including last weekend after Edwards won at Las Vegas.

And now NASCAR is out to get him again with the 100-point penalty to Edwards for the oil-tank cover violation.

When White chimed in and gave his opinion, it was more than Roush could stomach. White was due a free shot since Roush has criticized Toyota for over a year.

The more Toyota improves, the more people will line up to say the evil empire is taking over. And Roush will continue his soap-box rant, not that anyone cares.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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