DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Four cars powered by Toyota Racing Development engines suffered problems the last time NASCAR's premier series competed at Daytona International Speedway. When the circuit races here again Saturday night, cars powered by TRD engines will occupy four of the first five starting positions.
Toyota drivers take that as a positive sign that TRD is continuing to get a handle on the issues that have loomed over the manufacturer's entries on NASCAR's top level. Toyotas dominated Friday's qualifying session for the track's annual July race, with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth leading a stable that claimed four of the first five positions.
"That means one thing," said Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer, who will start third. "TRD has brought the horsepower."
TRD's issues began at the 2.5-mile track in February, when Kenseth was knocked out of the Daytona 500 by a bottom-end failure, sidelining a car that had led 86 of 149 laps to that point. Three other TRD drivers were also hamstrung by value-train failures, including Busch and MWR's Martin Truex Jr., who qualified fifth Friday.
In the wake of three failures over late-spring events at Charlotte at Pocono, TRD took the step of tuning its engines to emphasize reliability over horsepower. Although restrictor-plate engines are different from those employed at unrestricted tracks, Busch believes his first career pole at a restrictor-plate facility marks a positive step.
"Certainly, it's a help. And it's a positive reinforcement from where we were here in February," Busch said. "? Here being a restrictor-plate engine race track, we had a few issues in (February). But the guys at TRD have done a nice job, and we didn't see any of those issues at Talladega earlier this year. And it seems like they brought some more horsepower back for us here this week, and in qualifying it showed."
Next weekend at New Hampshire, though, Busch expects TRD cars to have slight differences in horsepower depending on their season goals. As a top contender for the championship, Busch said his team will choose greater reliability.
"When we go to the open places next week or the week after, there are some cars that run full power, and there are still some cars that don't run full-power, just given where you are in points and what you're looking for in the year," he added. "We're one of those guys, we'll keep dialing back a little bit until everyone's fully confident that the issues are resolved."
Kasey Kahne, who drives a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, was the lone non-Toyota driver to crack the top five Friday. Waltrip, driving his team's No. 55 car this weekend, qualified seventh, putting another vehicle powered by a TRD engine high in the starting field.
"A lot of the media's been beating up on them pretty bad in the last couple of months. Them things have had some problems, but that's because they're pushing hard and pushing forward to make sure we've got great horsepower," Bowyer said of TRD. "Certainly it looks like they've stepped up in a big way with this plate program."
Of course, there's also still the matter of 160 laps Saturday night.
"You're never comfortable," Bowyer added. "I understand what those things go through. If you could see the valve train in one of these engines at 9,000 RPM, I promise you, you would be running. You would be like, there's no way in hell that's going to last another two seconds, let alone 500 miles. It's serious, all the pieces and the moving parts and pieces inside these engines and what they go through. It's unbelievable that they do what they do for as long as they do."