Toyota drivers fuming about loss of horsepower after NASCAR ruling

Updated: September 11, 2008, 7:27 PM ET

John Sommers II/Getty Images

Johnny Benson and the rest of the Tundra contingent aren't happy about what has been done to their trucks.

Toyota drivers unhappy with NASCAR-mandated engine adjustments

Johnny Benson hasn't lost any confidence in his ability to win the Craftsman Truck Series championship this season in the Bill Davis Racing No. 23 Toyota. But he feels he's facing an uphill climb despite holding a 94-point lead with eight races remaining.

Two-thirds into the season, the rules have been changed.

NASCAR announced mandatory engine modifications on Wednesday, requiring tapered spacers (similar to restrictor plates) with different-sized holes on certain engines. At the start of the year, tapered spacers were made mandatory for all races for the first time, with equal-sized holes for all engines. The holes restrict air flow and therefore horsepower, with a smaller hole meaning less air flow and more horsepower reduction.

Toyota engines were mandated to use a spacer with four 1.1-inch diameter holes. All other manufacturers' engines will use 1.125-inch holes.

When similar modifications were handed down in the Nationwide Series in July, they were directly aimed at Toyota's new-generation engines, which had won 14 of 21 races. Those same engines won nine of 16 Truck series races before last week.

In the first race under the new rules, Ron Hornaday Jr. won at Gateway International Raceway in his Chevrolet. The Toyota contingent immediately felt the effects.

"I probably got passed by more people than I passed this week," said Benson, who finished third behind Dennis Setzer's Dodge. "[Hornaday] blew by us on the straightaway like we weren't even there. They were definitely better than what we were to start with, but we weren't bad, we did [pit] strategy to get us out front and I couldn't stay in front Dodge or Chevy. That's unlike us, we're able to usually come from behind and get to the front. We got to the front and couldn't even stay there."

After the series' race at Bristol on Aug. 20, engines from all four manufacturers were impounded for testing. Data were not made public, but it's universally known that the Toyotas had had better horsepower.

"This is a continuance of the ongoing engine evaluation we've had in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series over the course of this season and is a step we've taken to help further maintain a level playing field among our competitors," NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said.

Of course, the opinions in the garage area of the change varied by nameplate.

"NASCAR has always done a great job of trying to keep things equal, and unfortunately in today's marketplace, it's very difficult for the big three to keep pace with Toyota. They're spending their money on engine development," said Brendan Gaughan, a Ford driver with Circle Bar Racing. "NASCAR needed to step in, and I'm glad they've done something."

"It's ridiculous, totally ridiculous to penalize one manufacturer in such a manner," Germain Racing Toyota driver Todd Bodine countered. "It's never been NASCAR's policy to penalize teams and manufacturers for hard work, and that's what they've done. Their policy's always been to help the other manufacturer catch up to the one that's ahead. [Toyota] worked hard to that point and got the advantage. Why spend all the money, time and effort if NASCAR's going to take that away from you?"

"I'm not going to necessarily agree with [the rule], all Toyota did was their job," said Rick Ren, Hornaday's crew chief at Kevin Harvick Inc. but also Benson's former crew chief at BDR. "I've been on both sides of the fence. If I was a Toyota guy, would I like what's going on right now? No. I still think they've got eight, nine, maybe 10 horsepower on us, even with the plate, but I can race against that. I cannot race against 30 [more]."

Chevrolet and Ford have designed new engines that, if approved for competition in 2009, would require the same new tapered spacer and, conceivably, put the manufacturers on a level ground again. But that's little consolation right now to Toyota teams who feel wrongfully singled out.

"What NASCAR doesn't realize is that Toyotas have about 40 pounds more drag than Chevy and Ford, that more than accounts for the difference in horsepower, and that's why we were always so equal," Bodine said. "At St. Louis [Gateway], it was all that we could do as Toyotas to run with the Chevys and Fords. If we didn't run a perfect corner, they were going to pull away from us down the straightaway big-time.

"It's an incredible disadvantage to be driving a Toyota right now."

The win numbers were skewed toward Toyota, but three of those wins belonged to Kyle Busch, who has won 18 races across NASCAR's three touring series. Benson won four times but led fewer laps through 16 races than Hornaday (717 to 409), who had won three times prior to Gateway. Toyota, Chevrolet and Ford are represented in the top five in points, and Setzer is in the top 10 in his Dodge.

So one could make the argument that nothing was really broken before NASCAR's "fix." Toyota would make that argument, compared with what it has to deal with now. The manufacturer also has the most to lose with Benson carrying the torch as the championship leader.

"I figure in five races we won't be leading the points," Benson said. "I know that's weird to say, and by no means am I feeling any less confident for what we can do, but when you throw that type of restriction … we're under a different rulebook now.

"I'd understand if they did it over the winter. But in the middle of a championship battle, we have to change everything that we do. It's going to be a very difficult task to overcome."

While opening the door for perhaps a wild final eight races, starting this weekend at Loudon, N.H.

Another Dodge team exploring alternatives

Keep an eye out Saturday for an unusual occurrence at New Hampshire: two trucks running with the same sponsor but for different manufacturers. That will be the case when SS Racing/Greenlight Racing and regular driver Jason White split up for the first of two races.

White has been the regular driver of the No. 08 Dodge all season, but will drive the No. 15 Billy Ballew Motorsports Toyota at New Hampshire and Oct. 18 at Martinsville, Va. SS/Greenlight is considering a manufacturer change next season and wants White to check out a Toyota.

Dodge will not provide any funding to Truck series teams next season. Bobby Hamilton Racing-Virginia likely will switch from Dodge for 2009, which could leave the No. 08 as the only full-time Dodge in the series. The No. 08 already was operating this season without factory funding, but owner Bobby Dotter is still exploring all options.

"If we're by ourselves and don't have any of that support [with other teams driving Dodges], it could be a downside," Dotter said. "But if we don't see a decisive advantage in another manufacturer, we're very much interested in sticking with Dodge. If we're trying to do it on somewhat of a limited budget, Dodge may be perfect."

White's sponsor, Gunbroker.com, will be on the No. 15, but the No. 08 will also be on the track with the same sponsor. Dotter will drive it, making his first start since Las Vegas last season.

"I still have the desire to at least go have some fun," the 48-year-old Dotter said. "We're not out to prove anything, it's Jason's ride and there's no chance of anyone else taking it from him."

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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Tracy to run Texas, not Las Vegas

Paul Tracy

Tracy

Canadian open-wheel star Paul Tracy will drive a Germain Racing Toyota Oct. 31 at Texas Motor Speedway, not at his current hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway as previously planned. A Texas-based sponsor was the catalyst behind the move.

Tracy, 39, tested a Germain truck at Chicagoland Speedway in May, his first foray back into NASCAR since six starts in the Nationwide Series in 2006. He raced in July at the IndyCar Series event in Edmonton and finished fourth but was not able to parlay that into other rides during the rest of the season, which ended Sunday at Chicagoland.

Lia joins Randy Moss Motorsports

Rookie Donny Lia has resurfaced, pairing up with Randy Moss Motorsports to run at New Hampshire and Las Vegas. The winner earlier this season at Mansfield, Ohio, had been in the market for a ride after parting ways two weeks ago with TRG Motorsports, and placed a call to RMM co-owner David Dollar.

"He had a good track record in the [Whelen] Modified series back in the Northeast, and with him being from the Northeast and with Randy [Moss] being there in Boston with the Patriots, we thought this could work out pretty good," Dollar said. "We're looking at doing two races, with Loudon being a flat one-mile and Vegas being a mile-and-a-half banked track, it kind of gives us an opportunity to work on both scenarios and see how much they fit."

Lia, of Jericho, N.Y., is taking his primary Truck series sponsor to RMM and the No. 81 Chevrolet. For New Hampshire, TRG is opting to park the No. 71 previously driven by Lia, fielding just the No. 7 for T.J. Bell.

"We have decided to take the high road and not make any public comment on the issues surrounding Donny Lia's departure from TRG Motorsports," team owner Kevin Buckler said. "We have made a smart business decision by sidelining the No. 71 at New Hampshire this weekend and are currently in negotiations with other funded drivers who are available to take over that ride as soon as Las Vegas Motor Speedway next week."

Reutimann returning at New Hampshire

In other Germain Racing news, David Reutimann will make his first Trucks start since 2006 in the No. 9, replacing Justin Marks.

Marks, 18th in points and third in the rookie of the year standings, is building a Nationwide Series and ARCA schedule with the team for the remainder of the season and will make his final Truck series start of the season in the No. 9 Tundra next week at Las Vegas.

Reutimann, 25th in Sprint Cup points for Michael Waltrip Racing, was one of the original Toyota Truck series drivers when the manufacturer made its NASCAR debut in 2004. He won rookie of the year that season for Darrell Waltrip Motorsports, won his first race the next year at Nashville and in 2006 finished third in points, 136 behind Germain champion Todd Bodine. His crew chief back then was Jason Overstreet, and the two will be reunited this weekend because Overstreet has worked all season on the No. 9.

"You can pretty much say we were two rookies at the deal starting out, but we grew so much together," Reutimann said. "It's been a long time since we worked together, but I'm really looking forward to reminiscing and talking about the good old days with him. I can't wait to pick up where we left off."

Spare parts

Doug Richert was hired as crew chief of Mike Skinner's Bill Davis Racing No. 5 Toyota, replacing interim crew chief Joe Lax. Richert most recently worked for Speed Channel and before that with Sprint Cup driver Regan Smith at Dale Earnhardt Inc. … Michael Annett will make his final start of the year in the BDR No. 22 Toyota, as Dover, Del., winner Scott Speed returns for the final seven races starting next week at Las Vegas. … Chad McCumbee hopes to run two races at New Hampshire, in the No. 8 truck and the No. 45 Cup car for Petty Enterprises.

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