Exclusive: TRD boss says Toyota engine improvements coming

Denny Hamlin says the Toyotas are lacking in horsepower.

Jonathan Moore/NASCAR via Getty Images

Denny Hamlin was not a happy man when he climbed out of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after finishing seventh in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Ahead of Hamlin, winner Jeff Gordon, second-place Kevin Harvick and fifth-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. all had Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet engines under their hoods. And Hamlin said he couldn’t keep up with them.

"We’re trying to make the best we can do, down 50 horsepower. We can’t just accelerate down the straightaway like them," said Hamlin of the powerhouse Hendrick engines.

Tuesday, the man responsible for the engines that go in all of the JGR Toyotas said that Toyota is working hard to play catch-up, but that its performance deficit is nowhere near the 50 horsepower Hamlin referenced.

"We appreciate the passion that all of our drivers have," said David Wilson, president and general manager of TRD, U.S.A., Toyota’s racing division.

In an exclusive interview with FOXSports.com, Wilson said he understood Hamlin’s frustration on Sunday.

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"These guys are so competitive," Wilson said of the drivers. "They hate to lose. And the reality is, we have not had the season we expected. We’ve fallen short and I’ve taken full responsibility with respect to one of those components, and that being the engine performance."

TRD’s facility in Costa Mesa, Calif., builds the engines used in the JGR and Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas, among others.

Wilson said TRD has greatly improved engine durability from 2013.

"We’re delighted with our reliability this year," he said. "If you look at where we were last year, we had great performance, but we were inconsistent. We’ve got great reliability and we have to pour on the coals and we are pouring on the coals in terms of horsepower."

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Through 23 races, JGR has had only one engine failure in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, while MWR has had two. At the same time a year ago, JGR and MWR had at least six engine failures between them.

That said, Toyota’s last Sprint Cup victory came at Talladega in the spring, where Hamlin won. After that, Chevrolets won five races in a row, followed by a four-race winning streak by Ford and four more from Chevrolet.

Wilson said Tuesday that TRD is working hard to find more power with the Chase for the Sprint Cup rapidly approaching.

"That’s been an area that we’re working very hard on," Wilson said. "We’re not 50 horsepower down, I can tell you that. We’re getting better."