Jarrett to Toyota, But What's The Big Deal?

A week ago, Michael Waltrip made the official announcement that he had signed Dale Jarrett to drive a second car for Michael Waltrip Racing starting in 2007. An earlier announcement had let the world know that MWR would be driving Toyotas. So now, much is being written about "Jarrett going to Toyota."

But I have a question: What's the big deal?

People have been talking about Toyota as if they've pulled off the biggest coup in NASCAR history, by going out and "getting" Jarrett. Several articles have been written about how "Jarrett moving to Toyota" is going to affect the sport. There have even been rumors of a huge monetary bonus that Toyota offered Jarrett, as if the car manufacturer bribed him to join them. (All those involved have denied the rumor, by the way). But is it as big a deal as all that?

Look at it this way. Toyota didn't go out and "get" Jarrett. Michael Waltrip did. Toyota didn't negotiate a contract with Jarrett. Michael Waltrip did. Toyota wasn't directly involved in the deal at all. It was a deal between Dale Jarrett and Michael Waltrip. It was nothing more than a driver changing teams. It happens every year.

In fact, look at the changes from 2005 to 2006. Jamie McMurray changed teams. Kurt Busch changed teams. Bobby Labonte changed teams. Sterling Marlin changed teams. Several other driver changes were made on some teams. And in almost every case, the driver changed from one car manufacturer to another.

And let's not forget that with the "Car of Tomorrow" entering the scene next year, everyone will be driving new cars eventually.

So, how is the Jarrett move any different? The only difference is that Toyota is new to NASCAR Cup competition, so apparently that makes it more newsworthy.

Yes, it may be big news that Toyota is entering the sport, but the real story is how they got TEAMS to change over to their cars, not individual drivers. Thee story shouldn't be about Toyota getting Jarrett to drive for them. The story SHOULD be about Toyota getting MWR as an organization to make the move to Toyota. Of course, that story is already several weeks old.

So, why did Jarrett make the move from Robert Yates Racing to Michael Waltrip Racing next year? Maybe he felt that RYR no longer offered him a real opportunity for one last championship. Maybe things at RYR weren't headed in the direction he wanted to go. Or perhaps, after several years at RYR, he was simply ready for a change, a chance to shake things up. Maybe it was none of the above. The only person who knows the answer to that for sure is Dale Jarrett.

Did Toyota have anything to do with it? Maybe Jarrett tested one of their cars, and liked the way it drove. Maybe he looked into the specs of what they planned to build, and liked what he saw. Maybe he didn't like Ford's version of the "Car of Tomorrow" and wanted to distance himself from it. Maybe it was none of the above. Again, the only person who knows for sure is Jarrett.

The only things we know for sure are that he is racing next year for Michael Waltrip Racing, and that he has announced that 2008 will be his final season. And we can be fairly certain that Toyota had nothing directly to do with either decision.


Published on May 23, 2006 in