Teamwork is essential in the world of PR. It's especially important before a major event. For Toyota and driver Micheal Waltrip, the event is Toyota's debut in the Nextel Cup. Toyota was the first Japanese carmaker to compete regularly in NASCAR's top circuit. Participating in the Daytona 500, the kick-off race of the NASCAR Nextel Cup series and the “Great American Race,” was supposed to be their moment of glory. Instead they were scandalized on Wednesday when NASCAR announced that a performance-enhancing substance was found in their car, placed there by one of their own teammates.
Toyota had hopes of making major progress in the American car market by competing in the top American car race, but instead, the actions of one person ruined the respect for the team and cast aspersions on Toyota. In a sport where corporate sponsorship is essential, this major black mark on Waltrip's team's record creates an uncertain future. They have made strides over the past few days to recover lost trust by having all three remaining Micheal Waltrip Racing cars in the race. Waltrip also made sure to accept full responsibility when the news broke. "You can't be skeptical of Toyota," Waltrip said. "You just have to look straight at me."
NASCAR, on the other hand, is using the publicity to its advantage . In a sport where minor cheating is rampant, they are making an example of Waltrip's team and their major infraction. David Hyder, Waltrip's crew chief, and Bobby Kennedy, Waltrip's Director of Competition for Michael Waltrip Racing, were ejected from Daytona International Speedway and suspended indefinitely. Hyder was also fined $100,000 and fired. Michael Waltrip was docked 100 driver points and 100 owner points.
What does this all boil down to? NASCAR and the Nextel cup are reaching a wider audience than usual due to the coverage of the scandal. The grandstand seats were sold out at the Daytona 500, but TV viewership was down 10% from 2006. Waltrip finished in 30th place out of 43. Was all the stress and heartache worth it for the publicity? Is there really no such thing as bad publicity?