Common Thread: Three NASCAR Championship Contenders Graduates Of Toyota Driver Development Program

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Corey Heim, John Hunter Nemechek and Christopher Bell have more in common than just being fast in a racecar and competing for a NASCAR championship in their respective series – they all got to their current status through the efforts of Toyota’s Driver Development Program.

The TD2 program, as it is called, takes in young racers under the Toyota umbrella and provides them with training, tips and lifestyle guidance to help them go faster. That includes strength training, mental health support, advice on dealing with the heat inside a racecar and nutritional guidance.

David Wilson, President of Toyota Racing Development said the training provided should help the Toyota contingent on the track.

“There is a tremendous common denominator between all three Toyota championship contenders,” David Wilson, President of Toyota Racing Development, told Kickin’ the Tires. “Corey Heim, John Hunter Nemechek, and Christopher Bell are all Toyota development drivers. They all came up through our farm. System and that’s something that we are celebrating this year in something that we’re super proud of.”

The impact of the TD2 program was not lost on Heim, who is battling for the Craftsman Truck Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway. He confirmed he has reached out to other TD2 alumni, including Bell and Nemechek for advice on how to handle the pressures of racing for a championship.

“Just a little bit of the people around the Toyota Performance Center is the main thing, like John Hunter (Nemechek) and Christopher Bell, to name a few,” Heim said. “I feel like they’ve had championship experience in the past and being able to kind of pick their brains on it. They’ve got so much experience in the sport alone, but also that championship mentality, as well. They’ve won championships in the past, so to be able to kind of understand their mental side for a person that is in their first full-time year is kind of tough to understand, but by the day, I feel like I learn more and more.”

Heim said he has no doubts that Toyota has worked to ensure he had the best opportunities. That’s one of the reasons why he is a contender for the championship.

“I feel like every year with my development with Toyota Racing, they have put me in a good position to succeed,” Heim said. “I feel like I’ve been successful with them since I joined the program. Next year, coming back to the Truck Series, I feel like it will be no different and when I’m ready to move up, they’ll move me up.

“A lot of laps on the sim, to say the least, but I like to go back and watch the previous races, and see strategy-wise, what worked out for people and what didn’t, and also with the access to the Toyota Performance Center, that we have in Mooresville, NC. I was able to talk to some other drivers. I see John Hunter (Nemechek) over there and Christopher Bell, I was able to talk to them about what their experiences are as far as other Championship 4 and what they did to prepare for the race and how to be mentally prepared, calm, cool and collected for it.”

Bell credited the TD2 program as the reason why there are so many young racers coming up the ranks in the Toyota program. By getting young drivers and teaching them the right things to do, it makes for better competition and success.

“Now that you have young guys with a couple years of experience underneath our belts, you’re seeing that kind of mix, and that’s why we’re here today,” Bell said.

Nemechek echoed those sentiments, saying he has also reached out to others, including some at Toyota who helped him on and off the track.

“I won’t say names, but there are definitely some ‘goats’ (Greatest Of All Time), I will say in all series that I’ve been able to reach out to, talk to, and get different mindset perspectives,” said Nemechek.

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