NASCAR: Toyota working to find more horsepower for engines

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Last year for Toyota Racing Development, the power of their NASCAR Sprint Cup Series engines wasn’t the problem. It was their reliability.

This year, the situation has been reversed.

While TRD has largely avoided the engine failures that plagued them in 2013, it’s clear that they’ve been unable to match, performance-wise, the Hendrick and Roush-Yates powerplants that have respectively pushed Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske to the top of the pecking order.

Last Sunday at Michigan, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin claimed that his TRD engine was down 50 horsepower after he finished seventh in the Pure Michigan 400. Three of the Top-5 finishers, including winner Jeff Gordon, had Hendrick motors; a fourth Top-5 finisher, Team Penske’s Joey Logano in third, had a Roush-Yates motor.

Today, TRD president David Wilson denied that his organization’s engines were as down on horsepower as Hamlin alleged. But he admitted that the company has a gap to close, and is working hard to do that.

“Ultimately, we are bringing more performance,” Wilson said according to the Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass. “We’re not down 50 horsepower, I guarantee you that.

“But we also recognize we need to be better and have been very, very candid and open that we’re continuing to work to make sure when we get to the Chase, we’re more competitive.”

With three regular season races remaining, four Toyota drivers are currently on the Chase Grid with two of them, JGR’s Hamlin and Kyle Busch, having clinched berths.

Their teammate, Matt Kenseth, and Clint Bowyer of TRD-powered Michael Waltrip Racing currently occupy two of the four Grid positions that are still up for grabs.

JGR in particular appears in good shape to have all three of its drivers make the Chase as Kenseth has a sizable points cushion in his favor.

But it still bears noting that Kenseth has gone winless in 2014 after taking seven checkered flags last year. Busch’s win total has also dropped, from four in 2013 to a lone win in 2014 at Fontana.

If Toyota’s going to stand a chance to win this year’s Sprint Cup championship, TRD needs to solve its power woes. JGR’s owner, Joe Gibbs, is counting on them.

“We’ve got some good updates coming in the motor, and so hopefully we get hot at the right time,” Gibbs told Pockrass. “We’ve been behind.”