Toyota:Engine Trouble

By all indications, Joe Gibbs Racing has made all the right adjustments to cure engine problems that have plagued their race teams for the better part of two seasons. In case you haven’t kept up with the situation, the engine failures we’ve seen on Kyle Busch’s M&M Toyota in the last three races are nothing new, just a continuation of an existing problem with the Toyota engines. Mark Martin also had an engine problem on Sunday at the Quicken Loans 400 that took him out on lap 195.

The problems with JGR engines really began at the start of the 2011 Nascar season. Denny Hamlin blew an engine at the Daytona 500, but the problem there was determined to be driver error. Basically, Denny missed a shift change at high speed, and it over-revved the engine and damaging it.

The real failures came when Joey Logano had an engine failure at Phoenix, then Kyle Busch blew his engine up at Las Vegas. Logano again lost a cylinder at Bristol and ran the entire race underpowered. Denny Hamlin  blew another engine at California on lap 101 causing him to finish 39th and dropping him to 21st in the points.

At the time, Joe Gibbs Racing was building all of their own engines. Michael Waltrip Racing, Red Bull Racing and JTG Racing, who all run Toyota’s, were having  engines built by Toyota Racing Development (TRD). This is a common practice in Nascar to alleviate some of the cost of engine manufacturing. For example, All Ford teams have their engines built by Roush Yates Engines, and Chevrolet engines are built by Hendricks Motor Sports, and supplied to Stewart-Haas and Richard Childress.

After Denny Hamlin lost a close chase battle with Jimmie Johnson during the 2010 season, JGR was looking for a little more horsepower, and fuel mileage in order to compete with the Chevy’s and Fords, and began to tinker with the engine spec’s. Since going into Sprint Cup full time in 2007, the 2010 chase is as close as they had been to a championship.

By the start of the 2012 season, Joe Gibbs Racing merged their engine development with TRD. The engines would be a built in the TRD faucility in Costa Mesa,California,  distributed and installed at the JGR Headquarters in Huntersville, North Carolina. Joe Gibbs kept his engine shop in North Carolina to build and sell engines to Nationwide and Truck series teams.

There were only two DNF’s in 2011 due to engine problems, so the new merger would work on the old fuel mileage problems, keeping JGR from losing races due to running out of gas.

As the 2012 season got underway, the engine failures returned. In California. Joey Logano had problem in Saturday’s practice, and had to swap engines because of a leaky valve, and Denny Hamlin lost an engine on lap 105 at California. His engine was pulled and taken to TRD in Costa Mesa, for evaluation. Then Kyle Busch has lost three engines in the last three races. I would say that whatever they have done, hasn’t helped.

Jimmy Makar, JGR’s senior vice president of race operations at JGR said back in March that the problems with Hamlin and Logano’s engines were not related, and only Hamlins was due to parts failures. More alarming, Makar said there were very few changes made to the engines during the off season. He said the organization purposely left things the way they were, with minor adjustments to improve fuel mileage.

With the typical Nascar engine turning close to 10,000 rpm’s down some of these long straight a ways, the valve train always comes into question. That is where most of the failures occur, causing damage to the valve springs and causing an exhaust valve to be burnt, or losing tension and causing the valve to contact the piston. This is a catastrophic condition that causes the engine to literally explode.

Whatever the problems with the engines are, Kyle Busch has dropped in the points standings to 12th, and with Logano sitting at 15th, this only leaves Denny Hamlin securely in chase position. The only other Toyota’s in chase positions are Martin Truex Jr., and Clint Bowyer in 7th and 9th respectfully.

With Toyota coming into Sprint Cup Competition with the COT car, I think the entire program is just going to take some time. After all, Ford and Chevrolet have been at this Nascar thing for a lot of years, and would be the first to tell you, maybe it’s  just going to take some time.

Photo’s Courtesy Getty Images For Nascar and Yahoo Images

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Tags: Clint Bowyer Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Joey Logano Kyle Busch NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

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