The president of Toyota Racing Development calls Kyle Busch‘s final elimination due to engine failure at Bristol, “the worst nightmare imaginable for me personally and for our team.
“We cost Kyle Busch a shot at his third championship,” David Wilson told NBC Sports on Tuesday.
Busch was eliminated in the opening round after suffering engine failures at Darlington and Bristol. It marks the first time in his career that Busch has failed to advance past the first round.
Wilson said changes were made to all Toyota engines ahead of Sunday’s final race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 pm ET on USA Network). The engine changes will be carried out for the rest of the finals.
“We’re not giving up our efficiency,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “We feel it’s conservative enough to get us out of this danger zone a little bit.”
Busch’s elimination leaves Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell as Toyota’s only competitors racing for the drivers’ championship.
“Whether we’re lucky enough to maybe win a championship with either Christopher or Denny later this year, I’ll still be haunted by what happened, not just in Bristol, but in Darlington as well,” Wilson said. “Two engine failures in three weeks is unheard of. It’s unacceptable.”
The engine problems come after Toyota did not have a single engine failure in Cup last season.
Wilson said Toyota found the problem with its engines.
“We have some instability in our valve train and it seems to be triggered by us meeting the NASCAR mandated rev limiter, interestingly enough,” Wilson said.
At Darlington, Busch missed an upshift from fourth to fifth gear, contributing to the engine failure. “He buzzed the roll limiter hard,” Wilson said, “and a lap and a half later, his engine let out. Now, to be clear, our stuff should be pretty durable. It should be tough enough to handle that.
“At Bristol, NASCAR miscalculated the gear ratio. It was too short. When Kyle, especially when he ran that top groove in fifth gear, he hit the dream limiter, almost every lap. The fact is, right now we just don’t have enough margin of durability in our valve train. That’s on us.”
Wilson also noted that there have been engine failures with each of the other manufacturers this season.
“It’s not the car per se, but it’s some of the components,” Wilson said. “It operates a five-speed gearbox with closer gear ratios that require drivers to shift. Shifting puts more strain on our engines. In addition to that, NASCAR lowered their required rev limiter from 9700, down to 9200 RPMs. We operate in a power band (where) the goal is to really run around 8500 rpm.
“But because of the gear ratios, because of the five speeds, we’re coming to the roll limiter a lot more often this year than we ever have in the past.”
“Probably, I would venture to say, if we were running the same package as last season, we wouldn’t have seen any of this. We just didn’t experience this. We discovered a weakness in our valve train.”
Wilson denied that Busch was given weaker engines in the finals because Busch will leave Joe Gibbs Racing after this season for Richard Childress Racing and Chevrolet.
“I will say it’s offensive as a professional and someone who takes his responsibility as much as I do,” Wilson said of such speculation about Busch’s engines. “And I will say for those fans who are ignorant enough to suggest that this is some kind of mastermind conspiracy to get rid of Kyle Busch early, I would just say to go back and try to find the edge of the flat earth. It is absurd.”
Wilson said he and Busch spoke after Busch decided to sign with Richard Childress Racing and focused on the rest of that season.
“We both emphasized our intention to have a microphone moment in Phoenix, he’s going to win his third championship and he’s going to take that championship with him,” Wilson said. “Obviously, for Toyota, losing Kyle in a run through a championship is a massive setback. Kyle Busch is money in the playoffs. … By losing him, we’re taking a big hit. There’s zero upside. There’s zero upside. It’s just a crushing blow to our organization
“I can’t do anything. I apologized to Kyle. I apologized to (Joe) Gibbs. This is on us and hate that we let them down.”
Regarding the power steering problems at Bristol that a number of teams had, including Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing, Wilson said:
“This new car and all the new systems we’re dealing with have relatively very few iterations on them. This is the first time we’ve raced at Bristol, a very tight half mile on concrete. In a relative sense, I guess we put more load into that steering rack, into that power steering system, than anywhere else. It was just too much. We all freaked out because that happened because I think the (power steering problems for Ty Gibbs, Martin Truex Jr. and Bubba Wallace) all happened within 20 laps of each other. That’s just incredible.
“I know at least two or three of those cars literally blew out the seals in the (steering) rack, which happened from too much pressure. So I don’t know what salvageability there is from a team perspective.
“Even when it didn’t result in a final problem, I know, almost every week, the drivers, in various grades and various racetracks, were unhappy with their driving.
“There’s no question that NASCAR and the teams are looking at (it). … We have to fix this going forward.”
After facing the various challenges in the first round of the playoffs, Wilson said he ended a team meeting Tuesday by telling TRD employees that “the measure of this team is not defined by moments of comfort and success, it is defined and how we respond. in moments of stress and failure.”