The president of Toyota Racing Development has called Kyle Busch’s play-off elimination due to an engine failure in 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 on the opening lap after suffering engine failure at Darlington and Bristol. It is the first time in his career that Busch has not made it past the first round.
Wilson said changes were made to all Toyota engines ahead of Sunday’s playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network). The engine changes will continue for the remainder of the playoffs.
“We’re not giving up on our performance potential,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “We feel it’s conservative enough to get us out of this danger zone.”
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 potentially win a championship with Christopher or Denny later this year, I’ll still be haunted by what happened, not just in Bristol but Darlington,” Wilson said. “Two engine failures in three weeks is unheard of. It is unacceptable.”
The engine problems come after Toyota had no engine failure in the Cup last season.
Wilson said Toyota has found the problem with its engines.
“We have some kind of instability in our valve train and it seems to be caused by us hitting the NASCAR mandatory rev limiter, interestingly enough,” Wilson said.
At Darlington, Busch missed an upshift from fourth to fifth gear, contributing to the engine failure. “He buzzed hard on the rev limiter,” Wilson said, “and a lap and a half later his engine let go. To be clear, our gear has to be durable enough. It has to be heavy enough to handle that.
“At Bristol, NASCAR miscalculated the gear ratio. It was too short. When Kyle, especially when he was riding that top groove in fifth gear, hit the rev limiter almost every lap. The fact is, we just don’t have enough sustainability margin in our valve train right now. That is up to 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 has a five-speed gearbox with tighter gear ratios that require drivers to shift gears. Shifting puts more strain on our engines. In addition, NASCAR has lowered their mandatory rev limiter from 9700 to 9200 RPMs. We operate in a power band (where) the goal is really to spin about 8500 rpm.
“But because of the gear ratios, because of the five-speed gearbox, we’re getting to the rev limiter a lot more often this year than we’ve ever done in the past.”
“I would venture to say that if we had the same package as last season, we would not see all of this. We just haven’t experienced this. We have discovered a weakness in our valve train.”
Wilson denied that Busch got weaker engines in the playoffs because Busch will leave Joe Gibbs Racing after this season for Richard Childress Racing and Chevrolet.
“I’ll say it’s insulting as a professional and someone who takes responsibility as much as I do,” Wilson said of such suspicions about Busch’s engines. “And I say to the fans who are actually ignorant enough to suggest that this is some kind of conspiracy to get Kyle Busch out of the way early, I’d just say go back to looking for the edge of the flat Earth. It’s absurd.”
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 underscored our intention to have a mic drop moment in Phoenix where he’s going to win his third championship and he’s going to take that championship with him,” Wilson said. “Obviously, losing Kyle in the run-up to a championship will be a huge setback for Toyota. Kyle Busch is money in the playoffs. … By losing him, we get a big blow. There is zero upward. There is zero upward. It’s just a crushing blow to our organization
“There’s nothing I can do. I apologized to Kyle. I apologized to (Joe) Gibbs. This is ours and I hated that we let them down.”
As for the power steering issues in 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 few iterations. This is our first time racing in Bristol, a very tight half mile on concrete. In relative terms, I assume we put more load in that steering rack, in that power steering system, than anywhere else. It was just too much. We were all panicked when this happened because I think the (power steering issues 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 because of too much pressure. So I don’t know what remediation option there is from a team perspective.
“Even if it didn’t lead to a terminal problem, I know that almost every week the drivers, to varying degrees and on different tracks, were not satisfied with their controls.
“There is no doubt that NASCAR and the teams are looking at it. … We need to resolve this in the future.”
After taking on the various challenges in the first round of the playoffs, Wilson said he closed a team meeting on Tuesday by telling TRD staff that “the size of this team is not defined by moments of comfort and success, it is defined and how we react in moments of stress and failure.”