CHARLOTTE, N.C. – If the day that Furniture Row Racing team owner Barney Visser announced he’d be closing his team was the worst day of the year for Toyota, Wednesday’s addition of Leavine Family Racing was one of the manufacturer’s proudest in the last eight months.
Toyota Racing Development president and general manager David Wilson showed no shortage of excitement when discussing his belief that Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 95 team will be able to bring the Japanese manufacturer some of the same successes that Visser’s team has over the past two years.
Will they turn into championship contenders overnight? Likely not, Wilson admitted, but he still stressed that Wednesday marked “a solid step” in getting Toyota back to the position they want to be in at NASCAR’s top level.
“This is a big day for us. We’re particular with the partners that we bring onboard and we have a pretty small footprint in the NASCAR garage,” Wilson noted. “The reason we structure our business model like that is because we believe that focusing our resources across fewer, high-quality teams gives us the best opportunity to succeed and compete.
“None of us anticipated the loss of Furniture Row Racing, and that did leave a void in our strategic and competitive stances in the garage, but we’re delighted that Bob Leavine and his team took a look at this and that we were able to bet each other and decide that this is a team that can get us some success.”
Wilson knows that despite the influx of support Toyota will bring to Leavine Family Racing, the process of building the team into the same type of weekly contender that Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 team has been over the past several seasons will take some time.
“We have to be a little humble here. When we joined Furniture Row, they were further up the ladder than the Leavine team is. They had experience and they had already made the plans (for success),” Wilson pointed out. “With Bob and this group, we have some work to do to build them up to that kind of potential, but that’s OK. One of our principal values is continuous improvement, so we’ll start measuring this from the day we start, and we’ll be looking for forward momentum.”
However, in spite of an expected building process, Wilson believes in the long-term future that he sees in Bob Leavine’s small, but determined race team.
“I think the potential is absolutely there. The hardware is going to be capable of running up front, and we believe Matt (DiBenedetto) as a driver is perfectly capable of running up front,” stated Wilson. “Now, it’s about building the teamwork and building the relationships between Leavine Family Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota that are necessary for success, and that doesn’t happen overnight.
“It will take some work, but the ingredients will all be on the table to bring this team success.”