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David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, defended his company’s driver development program in light of criticism Tony Stewart recently raised.
“There aren’t a lot of drivers in (the Ford program), but there’s a reason there’s not a lot of drivers in it because they put that focus on that small group of race car drivers versus one of the other (manufacturers) out there that is, in my opinion, ruining other drivers’ careers on a daily basis by just signing mass numbers of drivers,” Stewart said Oct. 20. “Then at the end of it, they don’t have anywhere to go with them or they decide they don’t like them and then those drivers, and most of them are young drivers, lose opportunities that they could have had along the way to go somewhere else.”
Asked about Stewart’s comments, Wilson responded Friday:
“Here’s what I’ll say, and I’ll keep it brief because I could go on forever on this topic. Number one we’re delighted that Ford has made the decision to invest in driver development. I am certainly not going to judge their model or critique it. I’m just glad that they’re there because that’s a win for the industry and a win for these young kids that we’re both motivated to help.
“I am quite comfortable we are committed to the program, the investment that we’ve made. We have never held back a driver that has been in our program that has wanted to do something else or drive someone else’s car. Never. And we’ve given drivers the opportunities that they would not have had.
“Christopher Bell would not be sitting in the 20 car next year (at Joe Gibbs Racing), one of the best teams in the entire sport were it not for Toyota. Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, they are sitting on national championships in NASCAR largely as a function of the relationship that we have and the help that we have provided these young kids. So, as I said earlier, certainly one of the motivations for us to expand our footprint in the (Cup) garage and partner with Denny (Hamlin) and Michael (Jordan) is over time to add some seats for some of these young kids.
“Someone asked earlier a question, I’ll speak very plainly, we don’t have anybody right now that is ready to go in a Cup car in terms of our young kids. The other thing I’ll just remind everybody is most of these young kids who look like rock stars at 13 are never going to sit in a NASCAR Cup car. Never. The ladder narrows the higher you climb it. It becomes much more competitive as Denny referenced earlier. The jump between Xfinity and Cup, it is immense. It is immense. Most kids aren’t going to make it.
“Having said that, what I’m most proud of is that every one of these young people that we have a relationship with, we have a relationship with and we have a relationship with their families. We treat them with respect. They are not a commodity. They are not indentured servants. That’s just our culture. We’re excited to have some extra seats down the road when we have some folks that earn their way into an opportunity.”