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Is Toyota the place where Cup drivers go to retire?

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I can't help but wonder why everyone in and around NASCAR seems to think that Dale Jarret is a driver worth getting for Toyota. He may have been a star back in the 90s, but brother, it ain't the 90s anymore. Jarret's only win in the last two years was at Talladega Superspeedway, last October. I don't put very much weight into wins at Talladega; the track is just too random. Virtually anyone can win at that track on any given day, and Jarret's win just serves to prove my point. People like Jeff Gordon who have multiple legitimate wins at places like that prove only that people like him are just that much better than everyone else is, everyone else just got lucky.

Jerret has missed the Chase for the Nextel Cup each of the last two years, finishing 15th both times and this year isn't looking any better. He hasn't moved more than three positions in any direction from his starting spot of 10th in the last ten races.

To put a finer point on all this, Jerret is also I believe the second oldest driver in Cup right now, at a time when teams are putting kids as young as 19 in the seat. They want to find talent while they are young, so they can lock up the next superstar driver for as long as humanly possible, as cheaply as possible. Jarret hasn't been young nor a superstar for a long time now, and he's just a worn out name with no future prospects of competing for -- or winning -- a championship. He's going to be getting a huge paycheck from Toyota, there is little doubt about that, and Toyota is going to be getting a really expensive has been for its money.

The only other name involved with Toyota is Michael Waltrip, and I understand this partnership even less. At least Jarret is a former champion, and has won something like 29 races over his career. Waltrip has only won 4 races in 21 years, one of which was a no-skill rain out gift at Daytona. He was mediocre at DEI at best, and a bottom feeder anywhere else at worst. The guy is nice, but nice doesn't count of anything in professional sports. His best days, of which there were very few, at long behind him.

Toyota has two perennial losers so far, and I haven't heard a single name yet that makes me think they are going to improve that situation anytime soon.

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May 10, 2006, 11:32:00 AM
Well, you have to look at the big picture.

First, DJ is an accomplished driver, but his team, as well as the 38 team, have struggled in recent years. RYR has problems, and they seem to run pretty deep. Jarrett can still get it done, but as with any situation, you have to have the tools and situation to be able to do it. DJ isn't going to take a 18th place car, and force it into the top 10. The risk of dumping it in the fence is too great of a consequence.

Next, Dale would (if that is the direction he chooses) bring something very valuable to the table. Experience, and knowing how to communicate.

With Toyota starting teams from scratch, this is a vital piece of the puzzle, and will help them lay the foundation of the team.

Finally with DJ, the timing is right and in several ways.

He's only wanting to drive through 2008, which gives them time to get the team in place, operational, and up to some form of competition. How high that level is, we'll see.

Also, the other timing factor is that his contract is up with Yates this year. While Toyota my throw some nice figures at the drivers, or so says the rumor mill, they are only talking with drivers that are available. One of which is DJ.

As for Michael, this one is really a no brainer when you stop and look at it.

First, Darrell aligned with Toyota in the truck series. This opened the door for possibly reeling in Michael as well. Provided the circumstances were right, which they ended up being.

Next, it's no secret that Michael was second fiddle at DEI. Now he's basically driving for Bill Davis, which is a regression in quality even compared to second string at DEI.

Yes, Michael isn't the greatest thing since sliced bread when it comes to on track performance. However, what he brings to the table is much, much, greater a value to Toyota.

Let's face it. Michael is a sponsor's wet dream come true. He is the spitting image of a perfect PR rep. He makes people, as a whole, smile. All the while, ensuring his sponsors get their due. Granted, not everyone appreciates it, but there are far more people that smile at Michael's antics than not.

Toyota needs representation. They need leadership. They need to be able to put the foundation together for everything they do. Dale Jarrett is a natural leader, and Michael also has the experience. Combine that with both driver's uncanny knack to be well liked and respected, and it's a no brainer. The core of the Nascar Nation sees Toyota as an outsider. Whether half their cars are made here or not. Dale and Michael will hopefully help them bridge that gap.

Toyota plans on putting 6 cars on the track. 2 for Michael's team, 2 for BDR, and 2 for the yet to be put together Red Bull team. Of which, we know of only 1 driver guaranteed at this point, and from the looks of it, Dale may very well be the 2nd.

In the case of BDR, we all know he was going to move to Toyota when the time came. How about that lawsuit with Dodge? So, it's not surprising that their on track performance isn't up to snuff. After all, they aren't getting many bones thrown their way from Dodge in terms of factory support.

The rumor mill is as alive as ever of their talks with Robby Gordon. Especially with his previous connections with both Toyota and RedBull. Remember what was on the helmet he chucked at Michael? What seems to be the problem, is the Robby is unwilling to give up ownership of his team. In part or in whole. He even said that was an issue to him a few weeks back.

Personally, I'm looking for Toyota to make a split move on who they put in the seat. More of a balance of more seasoned drivers, with possibly a couple rookies in place. This would give them the experience they need, plus also a little bit of that Young Gun flash. However, it's a struggle to bring a rookie into a new team. It only works in some cases, and in some it fails miserably.

Remember Leffler last year? He was in the fence more than not. In steps Denny Hamlin, and so far he seems to have righted the ship.

Sometimes young guns aren't the way to go, and Toyota realizes this. The only thing that is certain with all of this, is that Toyota doesn't plan on failure. When they jump into something, they do what it takes to succeed. If that means opening the checkbook to get the best equipment and facilities, engineers, or whatever, they will do it.

Just my 2 cents.
Ok, maybe closer to a nickel's worth. ;-)

May 11, 2006, 3:07:00 PM
I'd say you threw a quarter into the lot, but that's just me. :)

May 11, 2006, 11:08:00 PM
You have some fair points about Jarret, but I still think it's a waste of money to bring him into the fold as a driver. The performance just isn't there. His experience could prove much more valuable however, as you've said, for Toyota to bring him in as an advisor, because his best days behind the wheel are behind him.

As for Waltrip, his personality can only take him so far with his sponsors. As bad as he has been doing in Cup, NAPA is only getting air time when Mikey wrecks, or when its commercials run. He may make a fine owner with Toyota, but he's not Robby Gordon, and I wouldn't be surprised if NAPA decides to reduce it's participation at some point in the future if he doesn't either step it up, or put someone else in his car.

I think Toyota is making a huge mistake coming to Cup first. Teams need experience just as much as drivers do, and BGN is a better place to start. Busch teams are cheaper to run, and that's where all the new hotshots are coming from these days. Better to dig up some new drivers, and evolve them with the teams in Busch first, then bring them up when the entire team is ready.

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