When former NASCAR champion Bill Elliott failed to qualify a Dodge for last weekend's Bank of America 500 for new team Red Bull Racing, which is one of the three Toyota teams for the company's inaugural Nextel Cup season in 2007, it cast a harsh spotlight on the steep learning curve facing Toyota's teams as they venture into the upper echelon of left-turn-only racing.

In the words of Lee White, senior VP for Toyota Racing Development, "I see light at the end of the tunnel, but there's still a mountain to climb."

Dodge, which re-entered Cup racing in 2000 after a 23-year layoff, could tell Toyota just how high that mountain can be - despite the best efforts of superstar team managers Ray Evernham and Roger Penske, it was only this year that Evernham Motorsports' Kasey Kahne (who won this weekend) started to make regular appearances in victory lane.

The learning curve will be even steeper for Toyota's teams, as they struggle to develop both a current-spec Nextel Cup streamliner with the Camry badge, and NASCAR's "Car of Tomorrow" racer (shown above in its Camry guise), which makes its part-time debut in selected races next year. (Rumor has it that NASCAR is pushing for the COT to be used as soon as the Bud Shootout in the run-up to the season-opening Daytona 500 in February.)

[Source: Boston Herald]