SALISBURY, N.C. — Through the open bay on the side of Toyota Racing Development’s chassis engineering facility drove Kyle Busch — in the 2013 Camry that will make its first competitive laps in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series next year.
With distinctive racy lines and significantly more brand identity than has accrued to NASCAR’s current-generation racecar, the 2013 competition Camry is both a new, sleek entry into the world’s foremost stock car racing series and, at the same time, a throwback to an era where cars on the racetrack were the clearly identifiable brethren of cars sold in America’s showrooms.
Clint Bowyer, driver of Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 15 Toyota, admired the new car, both for its looks and for the broader concept it represents.
“I think it’s really cool,” Bowyer told the NASCAR Wire Service. “To me, it really gets back to that winning on Sunday, selling on Monday feel that NASCAR once had and once used. That slogan rang so true for so many years. . . .
“That’s definitely implemented into these new cars. You started to see it in the Nationwide cars a few years ago. It needed to be done, and I’m excited that they finally made it all happen.”
For 10 straight years, the Camry has been the best-selling car in America. Nevertheless, Toyota embarked on an aggressive redesign to provide the Camry with an updated look. The 2013 racecar features a distinctive grille area and pronounced character lines, or shoulders, running from the rear of the car to the “A” pillars on either side of the windshield.
“All the Toyota designs have ramped up,” said car owner Michael Waltrip, who like Joe Gibbs and JTG/Daugherty Racing has signed a multiyear extension with Toyota. “It’s a really cool looking product that they’re selling, and to be able to race one of them is really fun for me. I love it. It’s something that I think people will get excited about.
“That’s good for our sponsors and good for our sport.”
As the winner of 85 events in NASCAR’s top three touring series since joining Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyota team in 2008 (84 points races in addition to the Budweiser Shootout), Busch was chosen to do the unveiling by driving the car into the building.
“Toyota and I have a great relationship,” Busch said. “I’ve done a lot of commercials for them–doing some fun commercials, singing a little bit . . . but to come here and to drive the car and to get to be the one who unveils the 2013 Camry first was meaningful.”
The new Camry was a cooperative effort between TRD’s chassis engineering division and Calty Design, part of Toyota’s global design team. But those weren’t the only players involved. Representatives of Toyota have met regularly with representatives of the other three Cup manufacturers — Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge — to find common ground.
NASCAR, of course, has been heavily involved, too, as both the manufacturers and sanctioning body have worked to achieve a balance between increased brand identity and competitive parity between the brands.
“The manufacturers have worked really, really hard,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition. “We set some pretty difficult (aerodynamic) targets to hit originally, and we’ve moved the targets a little bit as they work and get closer.”
In fact, Dodge originally came closest to the drag coefficient numbers NASCAR mandated in the early stages of development, but rather than demand a hard-line number, NASCAR relaxed its requirements recently.
“At the end of the day, there are two things that are neck-and-neck; parity, obviously, which we can regulate with spoilers and splitters and all of that; and identity,” Pemberton said. “This whole project (the 2013 cars) started off with identity, knowing that we had to maintain parity in the garage area.
“We were at one area (in terms of drag), and it got to the point of diminishing returns (in that manufacturers couldn’t meet the numbers without sacrificing some of the distinctive lines of their cars), so we changed the target. We met them a little bit on the target about 10 days ago to try to help the process along.”
All four manufacturers still have to submit their designs for final approval, and doubtless there will be tweaks and additional trips to the wind tunnel before then.