By admin | June 12, 2008
By Richard Allen
Ask any NASCAR fan about Toyotaâ€™s racing efforts for 2008 and the first thing that will probably come to mind is Joe Gibbs Racing and the success they are having.
Ask any NASCAR fan about Toyotaâ€™s racing efforts for 2007 and several things will come to mind, most notably penalties, missed races and poor results.
Granted, without the Gibbs juggernaut having joined their side this season Toyota would not be the talk of so many fans, competitors and media types but there has been significant improvement by those who were first aboard Toyotaâ€™s ship, especially by one team.
Team Red Bull has progressed remarkably in a relatively short amount of time.
To begin with, and perhaps most importantly, the driver of the #83 car, Brian Vickers, has qualified for every race. After the 14th race of 2007 Vickers had missed six races. Obviously, it is very difficult to improve when not racing week after week.
All totaled last year Vickers missed 13 races due to being outside the Top 35 in owner standings.
But it is not just that he is making races, he has been competitive. Vickers looked like a potential winner in the Coca-Cola 600 until his left rear wheel came loose and sent him into the wall. He followed that with a 13th place result in Dover. Last week he finished a very strong 2nd to Kasey Kahne in Pocono after leading 18 laps.
Vickers no longer has to worry with the burden of being outside the Top 35. He currently sits 17th in the standings, just 112 points out of the all important 12th position.
Every bit as impressive a rebound story as Vickersâ€™ is that of his Team Red Bull teammate A.J. Allmendinger. At times last year Allmedinger looked very much like a fish out of water. The former CART driver had a difficult time adjusting to stock cars to say the least. He failed to qualify for over half the races in 2007.
2008 did not start off any better for the young driver. He did not make the field for each of the first three races of the season.
Then, at the fourth race of the season in Atlanta car #84 took the first steps toward real improvement. Allmendinger was replaced by veteran driver Mike Skinner for the next five races. Although Skinner did not have any finish higher than 27th he did qualify for each race. And more importantly, after he left the cars began to perform better upon Allmendingerâ€™s return.
That improved performance has been particularly evident over the past month. Allmendinger won the qualifying race for the Sprint All Star Race. He has qualified in the 8th position for each of the last two races and last week in Pocono he earned a career best 12th place finish.
When it was announced that Joe Gibbs Racing would join Toyota in 2008 there was little doubt as to who would be the manufacturerâ€™s top team. However, Team Red Bull has clearly emerged as the Japanese auto giantâ€™s number two team and is looking to move closer to the top level of NASCAR teams.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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