NASCAR orders Toyota to lower Nationwide horsepower

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR tried to even out the competition in the Nationwide Series on Wednesday by ordering all teams using Toyota motors to squeeze down their horsepower before this weekend's race in Indianapolis.

Toyota has won 14 of 21 races this season in the Nationwide Series, and all but one came in a Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. The exception was JGR driver Kyle Busch's victory at Charlotte in May in a car fielded by Braun Racing.

NASCAR ordered all the Toyota motors to use a smaller spacer that will knock down 15 horsepower in the motors.

Lee White, president of Toyota Racing Development, said he was "extremely disappointed" and found no justification for NASCAR's decision, arguing the Nationwide teams have been successful this season because of hard work and not technical advantage.

"Despite this setback, we will continue to work diligently to keep our Nationwide teams competitive," White said. "Our hope remains that a Toyota team or driver will be rewarded with a championship at the conclusion of this year."

Technically, the new guidelines aren't directed solely at Toyota: The bulletin distributed to teams did not even mention the manufacturer.

But because the automaker is working with a brand new engine and has access to the latest technology, Toyota teams have gained an advantage over the manufacturers using older engine models.

If the other manufacturers should reach the stage Toyota is currently at, they would be subject to the horsepower guidelines NASCAR mandated Wednesday.

Chevrolet has been pushing to use its new engine in the Nationwide Series, and many believe that model is on par with the Toyota motors.

Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition, said the Toyota motors are legal and in line with previous guidelines. But NASCAR is responsible for maintaining a level playing field, and because Toyota is new to the sport and working with new designs, the manufacturer has gained an advantage over Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford.

"We are not punishing Toyota, but the end result is we have to try to maintain a competitive balance," Pemberton said. "Toyota has the newest, latest greatest parts and pieces -- no other company has had new engines in the Nationwide or Truck Series in I don't know how long.

"It can be debated whether this is a small or medium change, but we felt it was just enough to put [Toyota] back to where everybody was almost on par with the competition."

NASCAR recently sent 10 motors for testing, and found that David Reutimann's Toyota was the best with an estimated 3 percent horsepower advantage over the competition. JGR's No. 18 car -- which Busch drove to victory at Chicago right before the motors were tested -- was second.

Roush Fenway Racing's Nos. 16 and 17 Fords were next, followed by JGR's No. 20 car, which has won nine races with four drivers this season.

JGR builds its own motors for its two Nationwide Series cars. The rest of the Toyota engines in that series and the Craftsman Truck Series come from Triad Racing Development, a Bill Davis-owned company that leases engines.

White worried that NASCAR's tweak to the Toyota motors would stretch beyond immediate on-track performance.

"Unfortunately, the decision by NASCAR could be more far-reaching than simply mandating Toyota to adjust its Nationwide engine," he said. "The real impact will be felt by the Toyota teams as they adjust to the change, work to remain competitive for the remainder of this season and attempt to line up their sponsorships for next year."