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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Toyota win at Michigan would be painful for Big 3

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- There’s always something more upsetting about losing on your home turf. All the fans are watching and you hate to let them down.

With the distinct possibility that Toyota could win at Michigan, you can bet GM, Ford and Chrysler are praying that doesn’t happen. Toyota has already claimed the pole position, so you can bet some of their cars will be up front during the race.

Two-time champion Jimmie Johnson said he understands how important it is for the companies to defend their home turf, and he’ll do his best to make it happen.

“I completely understand how the manufacturers that are based here come to this track and want to win on their home court. … I can also understand how bad the other manufacturer would want to come in and beat the U.S. based companies here,“ Johnson said “It doesn’t change how we race …. But Monday morning when everybody is at their board meetings, catching up in the business, there are some bragging rights that go with it all and we want to make sure a Chevrolet wins again.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. echoed those sentiments, saying “It’d be good to get a win anywhere, but Michigan’s a good place with the manufacturers being so close.”

So what does a Toyota driver think? Denny Hamlin didn’t think a Toyota win would race much concern.

“There are a lot of Toyotas that come out of the Untied States. So I don’t think it would be any different that any other race track we go to,” Hamlin said. “I don’t think anything more would be made of it. It would just make a little side note on the headline.”

Based on that statement, it’s pretty obvious Hamlin isn’t from this area. A Toyota win would be a huge deal, and a pretty big embarrassment for the Big 3. Eventually, a Toyota will win a Cup race at MIS, but the Big 3 are surely doing their best to make sure it’s delayed as much as possible.

This issue is particularly interesting in light of the recent economic struggles of the Big 3. There has been talk that maybe the car makers might pull back on their support of NASCAR teams to save some bucks.
Greg Biffle doesn’t think that will happen, saying the automakers help bring in customers by competing in NASCAR, and are dedicated to the sport.

He even went farther, predicting an economic turnaround for Ford.
“Ford is really coming with a strong smaller car lineup and fuel-mileage based cars. I think you’re going to see (Ford) emerge better. They’re producing better vehicles than Honda and Toyota right now and just as soon as the population figures that out, I think they’re really going to be strong.”

Jeff Burton said that while GM remains committed to supporting their NASCAR teams, it’s hard for him to watch the companies go through the tough times they‘ve faced over the past several years.

“There was a time in our country where you looked at the auto manufacturers as an empire that could never go away and I think today we can’t look at it in that fashion, which is sad. … it’s hard to see them struggling.”

Jeff Gordon will work hard to get his Chevy in Victory Lane, but said Toyota has a good shot at the victory.
“They’ve been winning plenty this year, so I don’t think it would be any big surprise to any of us.”

With the amazing year Toyota has had so far, no one would disagree with Jeff on that.

And if it does happen, keep your ears open for a large chorus of boos that will echo across the state.

Biffle talks longevity at Roush
With so many driver swaps each year, Greg Biffle is a rarity … as he’s been with Jack Roush’s organization over a decade, through all three series.

He said the other options presented to him haven’t been worth leaving Roush, who has deep Michigan connections both personally and professionally.

“There’s the old saying about the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence, and you think that … then when you really do hard research and investigate if it’s really greener on the other side of the fence, a lot of times there were plusses and minuses to everything.
“When my contract has been up the last two times, I’ve researched what my competition looks like and I’ve very thankful to have a bunch of offers from other team owners. I felt like with where the 16 car is, we were seventh in points at the time, I didn’t feel like it was a smart move to me to get out of that seat.”

He said Roush’s dedication to winning is a big part of why he stays.
“(Jack’s) commitment to the performance end of the business definitely keeps me there. They’re committed to giving us quality and good cars and engines, and that’s important.”

Always a possibility of fuel mileage
At MIS, never count out the chance that fuel mileage will decide the race.
Earnhardt Jr., who won on fuel mileage in June, said your view of such races depends on where you end up in the running order.

“It depends which side of the fence you’re on. If you’re on the winning side, you’re happy,” he said. “If you’re the guy who had the fastest car all day, you’re not real happy about it. I’ve been on both sides of it.”

Denny Hamlin is not a fan of fuel mileage races.
“We suck at fuel mileage races. We’re terrible when it comes to that,” he said. “I don’t think the fans want a crew chief race. I think they like to see a driver’s race.”

Roush driver Matt Kenseth echoed these sentiments.
“The fuel mileage thing and track position thing is really aggravating and gets old for everybody except the winner. It would be more fun to have the fastest group of cars racing for the win and the end. That’s kind of what you always hope for.”


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