Toyota: From Controversy To Championship?

Jen PrestonSenior Analyst ISeptember 15, 2008

Japanese-based car manufacture Toyota entered NASCAR back in 2000, when it's Celica model was run in the then Goody's Dash Series.  It took them three years to win their first NASCAR Series title, when Robert Huffman did it in 2003.

That was then.  This is now.

Toyota is on the verge of winning NASCAR's biggest prize, but the journey there has been filled with controversial bumps in the road.

First entering the now Nationwide and Spring Cup Series, Toyota began fielding cars with lackluster and start-up teams.  Red Bull and Michael Waltrip Racing had two and three cars, respectively, fielded for the new car maker along with Bill Davis who ran a total of three entries by the end of 2007.

Beginning their first season, Toyota found itself in a much bigger hole than starting new teams.  Michael Waltrip and his NAPA team were caught with an illegal substance in the fuel.  MWR's #55 began the year without crew chief David Hyder and competition director Bobby Kennedy, as well as losing 150 valuable driver and owner points.

That despairing cloud hung over all the Toyota cars for the rest of the season.  The seven teams failed to qualify 92 times, had no wins and combined for only eleven top tens.  NASCAR's new car make finished last in the manufacture's championship.

However, things began to look up for Toyota in 2008.  Joe Gibbs Racing added Kyle Busch to an already championship caliber lineup of Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin.  Making the switch to Toyota made everyone wonder if it would be the end of JGR.

It wasn't.

Rowdy Busch scored Toyota their first Cup victory in Atlanta earlier this year, and he and teammate Denny Hamlin never looked back.  They won nine more races for their new car make, and with Tony Stewart put three Toyotas in the Chase.

Problems, however, have still plagued the other teams.  Jack Roush, by far Toyota's strongest critic, accused MWR of stealing a sway bar in September 2007, which the team admitted they did accidentally.

Roush and Toyota's GM of Racing Development Lee White also had words when Roush-Fenway driver Carl Edwards was disciplined for an oil tank lid that came off.  Toyota Racing admitted they tested what effect that would have in a wind tunnel test in Germany.  The test showed it resulted in 170 extra pounds of down force, according to Toyota.

While NASCAR didn't comment when Roush raised questions, they have begun cracking down on Toyota horsepower.  Engines in both the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series are now being restricted.  Joe Gibbs Racing's two Nationwide entries were severely penalized for attempting to manipulate a dyno test shortly after the rule change was made.

So, with NASCAR's most unpopular manufacturer dominating with NASCAR's most hated would fans react if a Toyota walked away with the Cup?