The chairman of Toyota Racing Development calls Kyle Busch’s elimination from the playoffs 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 first round after suffering engine failures at Darlington and Bristol. It’s the first time in his career that Busch hasn’t made it past the first lap.
Wilson said modifications were made to all Toyota engines ahead of Sunday’s playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network). Engine changes will be implemented for the rest of the playoffs.
“We’re not giving up on our performance potential,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “We think that’s conservative enough to get us out of that danger zone.”
Busch’s elimination leaves Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell as Toyota’s only competitors in the race for the Drivers’ Championship.
“Whether we are lucky enough to win a championship with Christopher or Denny later this year, I will always be haunted by what happened, not just at Bristol but also at Darlington,” Wilson said. “Two engine failures in three weeks is unheard of. It is unacceptable.
The engine problems come after Toyota didn’t have a single engine failure in the Cup last season.
Wilson said Toyota found the problem with its engines.
“We have some sort of instability in our valve train and it seems to be triggered by us hitting the NASCAR mandated rev limiter, which is quite interesting,” Wilson said.
At Darlington, Busch missed a shift from fourth to fifth gear, contributing to the engine failure. “He buzzed the rev limiter loudly,” Wilson said, “and a lap and a half later his engine gave out. Now, just to be clear, our stuff has to be durable enough. It should be tough enough to handle this.
“At Bristol, NASCAR miscalculated the gear ratio. It was too short. When Kyle, especially when he was running that top groove in fifth gear, he was hitting the rev limiter, almost every lap. The fact is that right now we just don’t have enough durability margin in our valve train.
Wilson also noted that there have been engine failures with each of the other manufacturers this season.
“It’s not the car itself, but it’s some of the components,” Wilson said. “It uses a five-speed gearbox with closer gear ratios that force drivers to shift gears. Shifting puts more load on our motors. On top of that, NASCAR lowered its mandatory rev limiter from 9700 to 9200 rpm. We operate in a power band (where) the goal is really to spin around 8500 rpm.
“But because of the gear ratios, because of the five speeds, we’re getting to the rev limiter a lot more often this year than we ever have in the past.”
“No doubt, I would venture to say, if we used the same package as last season, we wouldn’t see any of this. We just didn’t experience that. We discovered a weakness in our valve train.
Wilson denied that Busch received weaker engines in the playoffs as 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 responsibility as much as I do,” Wilson said of such speculation about Busch’s engines. “And I will say for the fans who are actually ignorant enough to suggest that this is some kind of brain plot to get rid of Kyle Busch early, I would just say go back to trying to find the edge of the flat earth. This is nonsense.”
Wilson said he and Busch spoke after Busch decided to sign with Richard Childress Racing and focused on the rest of this season.
“We both emphasized our intention to have a mic drop moment in Phoenix because he’s going to win his third championship and he’s going to take that championship with him,” Wilson said. “Obviously for Toyota to lose Kyle in a race through a championship is a huge setback. Kyle Busch is playoff money. … Losing him takes a big hit. no benefit. There is no benefit. It’s just a blow to our organization
“There’s nothing I can do. I apologized to Kyle. I apologized to (Joe) Gibbs. It’s on us and hated that we let them down.
Regarding the power steering issues at Bristol experienced by a number of teams including Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing, Wilson said:
“This new car and all the new systems we are working with have relatively few representatives. This is our first time running in 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 too much. We were all freaking out while it was happening because I think the (power steering issues for Ty Gibbs, Martin Truex Jr. and Bubba Wallace) all happened within 20 laps of each other. It’s just amazing.
“I know, at least two or three of these cars literally blew the (steering) rack seals off, which happened because of too much pressure. So I don’t know what possibility of remediation there is from the point of view of the team.
“Even where it hasn’t resulted in a terminal issue, I know that almost every week drivers, to varying degrees and at different circuits, have been unhappy with their direction.
“There is no doubt that NASCAR and the teams are considering (this). … We have to solve this problem to move forward.
After dealing with the various challenges of the first round of the playoffs, Wilson said he concluded a team meeting on Tuesday by telling TRD employees that “the measurement of this team is not defined by moments of comfort and success, it is defined and how we react in times of stress and failure.