Toyota fans and drivers all hope the road to victory starts on the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway during the March 16-18 race weekend. All seven of Toyota's drivers will attempt to qualify for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 NEXTEL Cup race and hopefully provide a much needed boost to their season.
The only man driving a Toyota ranked higher than 40th is past Cup Series champion Dale Jarrett, in 32nd. Jarrett, who is guaranteed a starting spot in the Kobalt Tools 500 because of a past champions provisional, knows the key to Toyota's success is better handling race cars.
"We've got to get some more downforce in these cars," Jarrett said. "We are just not capable of doing the things that these other guys are doing with their cars. That will help us more than anything, then we can show how good the pit crew is and that we've got smart guys. Downforce will make a lot of difference, so we've got to get back and work on our bodies."
All seven drivers wearing the Toyota moniker have 123 Atlanta starts between them, with 102 of those shared between Jarrett, Waltrip and Mayfield. The only Toyota driver to step into victory lane at NASCAR's fastest track is Jarrett, who has won once at AMS.
The turnaround that Toyota must achieve will start on Friday, March 16 during Georgia Power Qualifying, under the lights, when everyone with the exception of Jarrett will be forced to qualify on time for the Kobalt Tools 500.
The bright spot for Toyota is that each one of their drivers has managed to notch a qualifying spot at least in the top-five in past races at AMS. Jarrett has two NEXTEL Cup poles to his credit, while Vickers has started on the outside pole. Blaney has a third-place start at AMS with Mayfield and Waltrip recording fourth and fifth-place starting positions respectively.
Reutimann and Allmendinger, who have not started a Cup race at AMS, have experienced qualifying success in the Craftsman Truck Series with Reutimann winning a pole and Allmendinger earning a second-place starting position.
Through all of Toyota's struggles in 2007, Jarrett's crew chief Matt Borland knows that fortunes can change quickly and each race is a learning experience for newcomer Toyota.
"We've learned a lot of things, including what not to do, which is always good," Borland said of 2007. "We have a good direction on what to work on and what is going to make the biggest impact, as well as learning how to communicate better since we have a new team. We have to get everyone on the same language. That helps a lot during the races."
One of Toyota's most promising drivers, Brian Vickers, has earned the manufacturers only top-10 finish to date, but is cautiously optimistic about his fortunes in 2007.
"To be a new team in such a competitive series and come in during our first race and get a top-10... I'm proud of everyone," Vickers said. "We have to maintain our goals and I think our goal is to focus on making the race. Until we get in the top-35 in points, that has to be our goal..., we can't forget that."
Atlanta Motor Speedway, one of NASCAR's toughest tracks, may not be the ideal venue to jumpstart a season, but Toyota drivers will take their first step in starting the turnaround by securing a starting spot in Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 during Friday night's Georgia Power qualifying session.
Great seats are still available to the entire Kobalt Tools 500 race weekend and can be obtained by calling 877-9-AMS-TIX.