CHARLOTTE - NASCAR tried to even out the competition in the Nationwide Series yesterday by ordering all teams using Toyota engines to squeeze down their horsepower before this weekend's race in Indianapolis.
Toyota has won 14 of 21 races this season in the Nationwide Series, and all but one of them came in a Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. The exception was JGR driver Kyle Busch's victory at Charlotte in May in a car fielded by Braun Racing.
NASCAR ordered all Toyota engines to be equipped with a smaller spacer that will knock down 15 horsepower.
Toyota president Lee White said he was unhappy with NASCAR's decision, but declined further comment and said manufacturer representatives were preparing a statement about the changes.
Technically, the new guidelines aren't directed solely at Toyota - and the technical bulletin distributed to teams did not even mention the manufacturer. But because the automaker is working with a brand new
engine and has access to the latest technology, Toyota teams have gained an advantage over the manufacturers using older engine models.
If the other manufacturers should reach the stage Toyota is currently at, they would be subject to the horsepower guidelines NASCAR mandated yesterday.
Chevrolet has been pushing to use its new engine in the Nationwide Series, and many believe that model is on par with the Toyota motors.
Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition, said the Toyota motors are legal and in line with previous guidelines. But NASCAR is responsible for maintaining a level playing field, and because Toyota is new to the sport and working with new designs, the manufacturer has gained an advantage over Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford.
"We are not punishing Toyota, but the end result is we have to try to maintain a competitive balance," Pemberton said. "Toyota has the newest, latest greatest parts and pieces. No other company has had new engines in the Nationwide or Truck Series in I don't know how long.
"It can be debated whether this is a small or medium change, but we felt it was just enough to put [Toyota] back to where everybody was almost on par with the competition."
NASCAR recently sent 10
motors for testing, and found that David Reutimann's Toyota was the best with an estimated 3 percent horsepower advantage over the competition. JGR's No. 18 car - which Busch drove to victory at Chicago right before the motors were tested - was second.
Roush Fenway Racing's Nos. 16 and 17 Fords were next, followed by JGR's No. 20 car, which has won nine races with four drivers this season.
JGR builds its own motors for its two Nationwide Series cars. The rest of the Toyota engines in that series and the Craftsman Truck Series come from Triad Racing Development, a Bill
Davis-owned company that leases engines.