Toyota announces their entry into NASCAR Busch and Cup
Official confirmation that Toyota will be moving into
the NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch Series in 2007, plus confirmation that NASCAR’S
Car of Tomorrow project will become part of Cup racing next year, topped the list
of major announcements during day one of the annual NASCAR Media Tour in
The tour, now in its third decade, is again hosting
more than 200 reporters from local and national media focusing on NASCAR racing.
Monday’s activities began with the now-traditional NASCAR Chairman Brian France headlined the
session which included the official unveiling of Toyota’s prototype Camry targeted
for Cup racing in 2007.
Dave Illingworth, Toyota’s Director of Planning and
Development, made the official announcement. Illingworth noted the Camry’s NASCAR
debut would help mark the 50th anniversary of Toyota sales in the US, saying the
company’s past couple of years racing its Tundra in the Craftsman Truck Series had
given it a real appreciation for the value of NASCAR competition. But Illingworth
also made it clear Toyota’s normal competition model won’t apply to the company’s
entry into Cup and Busch Series racing. There’ll be no Toyota-backed cars or teams
next year, as has been the case in the Truck Series.
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France addresses members of the media
at the NASCAR press conference in Concord, N.C.
Davis Turner/Getty Images
Instead Toyota will make its parts and pieces
available to its contracted teams which will then build their own race cars. That
is in line with the existing NASCAR competition model.
NASCAR’s Brian France indicated that competition model
remains vital to NASCAR. The sanctioning body plans to keep as level a playing
field as possible once Toyota brings the Camry to the garage area next season.
Toyota is slated to announce its Cup and Busch teams and drivers Tuesday night
when it hosts a dinner for the media at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway’s Speedway Club.
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France joins Toyota Executive Dave
Illingworth during the unveiling of the Toyota Camry that will be on track
beginning in 2007.
Davis Turner/Getty Images
The NASCAR presentation also focused on the roll-out of the Car of Tomorrow
project, scheduled over a three-year period beginning next season. NASCAR
executives say the COT project should cut costs for race teams, a contention that
team owner Jack Roush disputes. NASCAR believes the bigger, boxier COT will mean
teams won’t have to build as many cars and that build times in team shops will
also go down, thus saving more money. NASCAR’s plan involves a much more stringent
laser-guided system of measuring cars during tech inspection, giving teams a much
smaller “hole” of creativity in car building. The plan, as is the case in road
racing, is to require the same car configuration on virtually all NASCAR tracks,
with aero adjustments coming from adjustable or changeable front splitters and
rear wings. It’ll still be possible to add and move ballast to change handling,
but again that should happen in a tighter technical window once the Car of
Tomorrow hits the race track.
NASCAR is hoping to create closer racing with the new car. Officials say the use
of the rear wing instead of the current spoiler should allow cars to run closer in
“dirty” air, though more on-track aero evaluation needs to be completed to finish
the specifications of the Car.
NASCAR Vice President of Research and Development Gary Nelson noted one of the
goals for the Car of Tomorrow is greatly enhanced driver safety. As has been
widely reported, the car’s greenhouse is much bigger, allowing for a larger roll
cage. The driver’s seat has been moved four inches right, toward the car’s center.
The new car will also include more “crush zones” designed to enhance driver safety
in a hard wreck.
NASCAR is also planning a 17.5 gallon fuel cell for the new car, building on the
idea behind the current Talladega-only smaller cell. That, plus the possibility
that the new COT will be a good bit heavier than the current 3400 pound Cup spec,
and the fact that the car will be less aerodynamically efficient, should create
more pit stops in each Cup ad Busch Series race. That, in turn, will provide more
chances to “shuffle the deck” on the race track…but it will also put even more
emphasis on quick pit work. And the sanctioning body plans to start using unleaded
fuel in its touring series by 2008.
NASCAR also announced its 8-driver “Drive for Diversity” lineup for 2006,
welcoming Ken Schrader Racing and NHRA superstar Frank Pedregon to the family of
teams offering opportunities to young women and minority drivers. Race winners
Allison Duncan and Chris Bristol will return, along with several other promising
young guns in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series ranks.
While taking reporter’s questions Monday, France acknowledged that the departure
of COO George Pyne will leave a void in the company. Pyne is expected to be
announced as the new president of giant sports-management firm IMG later this
week. But NASCAR President Mike Helton pointed out that the France family has
built a team with plenty of bench strength to withstand departures by key leaders,
and that the company will continue to grow stronger.
France also noted that NASCAR continues to have a great interest in expanding to
Canada, but that that would not involve the Cup Series.
After wrapping up at NASCAR, the tour moved across the street to the Roush Racing
headquarters complex, nearby the Concord Regional Airport.
Team owner Jack Roush headed the presentation, along with his five Cup Series
drivers plus his two Busch and Truck Series entrants. The long-time team owner
noted that even though he did not win a third-straight Nextel Cup, the feat of
placing all 5 of his teams in the Chase made this past season his most rewarding
ever….and he’s just hoping 2006 comes close to ’05 in terms of Roush Racing
Roush was somewhat skeptical of Toyota’s entry into the Cup and Busch Series come
next season. He noted that Toyota greatly changed the game in the Craftsman Truck
Series and anticipates that could happen in Cup and Busch as well, despite
NASCAR’s announced intention to insure that Toyota operates its NASCAR racing
effort in the usual way, avoiding direct ownership or sponsorship of teams.
Mark Martin, back from retirement for one more run in Cup and Busch, may actually
be the busiest Roush driver this year. He’ll make selected Busch Series starts,
expects to restart the Craftsman Truck portion of his driving career, and will
defend his IROC title….all in addition to his full season of driving the red,
white, and blue AAA-sponsored #6 Fusion on the Cup tour.
Roush will also be impacted over the next several seasons by NASCAR’s announced
intentions to limit Cup ownership to four teams per company. Roush says the
earliest he could be down to that number would be 2009, when his current
commitment to Carl Edwards and his Cup backers expires. But Roush admitted that
drivers and sponsors sometimes make moves on other schedules, and that if that
happens he could be down to four Cup teams more quickly.
The NASCAR Media Tour moves on to Evernham Motorsports, Robert Yates Racing, Gibbs
Racing, and other stops over the next several days. We’ll have all the details
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