Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Toyota unveils its 2013 NASCAR Camry, with considerable fanfare...and just a few questions too

Toyota unveils its 2013 NASCAR Camry, with considerable fanfare...and just a few questions too

Toyota's Andy Graves (R), with Martin Truex Jr. Graves has been Toyota's point-man on the 2013 project (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


   By Mike Mulhern

   They call it Area 54.
   Because, like Area 51 out in Nevada, this place is generally off-limits, except on a need-to-be-at basis.
   Toyota does things a little differently.
   Like putting its North Carolina high-performance race shop here deep in the backwoods of Rowan County.

   It's not really that hard to find, of course; just find the shop with half a dozen Toyota race cars sitting out on the front lawn.
   "We've got 45 very talented people here, 33 with advanced degrees," Lee White, Toyota's NASCAR boss, says.
   "And I can sit in my office and look out the window at four-point and six-point bucks, and wild turkeys....."
   When does bow season open, October?
   "We don't kill things here; we feed them," White says with a smile.

   May, 2012: the new NASCAR Toyota (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

   This place is only opened for special occasions....like this one, to unveil the Toyota 2013 NASCAR stocker.
   It may be coming a little late. After all, Ford not only took the wraps off its 2013 NASCAR in January but had two of them on the track at speed at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Dodge had its 2013 NASCAR – albeit still without drivers and owners – on display at Las Vegas in February. And Chevrolet....well, more about that later.
   Kyle Busch roars into the display room here at the wheel of the anxiously awaited 2013 Camry, in front of 100 or so, mostly Toyota family people, from owners Joe Gibbs, Michael Waltrip and Brad Daugherty (who all announced long-term renewal contracts with Toyota, closing more doors to Dodge-Fiat) to West Coast execs like Les Unger and drivers like Clint Bowyer.
   While the new NASCAR Ford and new NASCAR Dodge look dramatically different, even a bit outlandish perhaps, in light of the now five-year-old car-of-tomorrow look-a-likes, the new NASCAR Camry looks, well, pretty much like the street Camry: rather non-descript. Certainly not Camaro-Mustang muscle-car flashy.
   Of course Toyota has seldom really been about flash anyway (well, aside from rowdy Kyle Busch). It has had the best-selling car in America for 14 of the past 15 years, and 10 years straight. And execs, when Toyota first jumped into NASCAR, were unabashedly upfront about the real reasons – to sell trucks and to showcase the brand's made-in-America spurs.
    In fact – and this naturally was part of this presentation – when it comes to 'most American car sold in America,' the Camry has been tops on the list for three straight years. This of course is in contrast to its NASCAR rivals that are pretty much made in either Mexico or Canada...and in sharp contrast to what looks like the 2013 NASCAR-Chevy SS, which is to be made in Australia.

   January, 2012: the new NASCAR Fords (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   This entire 2013 NASCAR-Detroit project is largely a big campaign to try to put Detroit back in the NASCAR racing equation more prominently.
   It is in effect a major reversal from the ill-fated car-of-tomorrow project, which was to make every stock car, no matter which brand, virtually identical except for decals and the front grill. In primer gray it has been all but impossible to tell a Ford from a Chevy or Dodge or Toyota.
   The COT project was partly a safety project, partly a parity project (to equalize everyone), and partly a control project (with NASCAR, though extensive rules and regulations and body templates and such, taking virtually complete control of the race car itself).
   Just what this 2013 project is, at heart, is still a bit murky. The line is that it's NASCAR giving some control over the cars back to the car makers, with the subtle caveat not to do any public yelling and screaming. So in part this is an effort to see how well the four car makers can play with each other in this arena, behind the scenes.
    Whether the 2013s will produce any better caliber of racing probably won't be known until the new models debut officially in next year's season-opening Daytona 500.
    In fact fans apparently won't get to see the four cars on track until some time in September or October.
    The official 'approval' process for the 2013s will hopefully be finished sometime in July, because teams will need plenty of lead time of their own to build models and test them.
    The major holdup at the moment appears to be aerodynamics – deciding on what aero numbers to use as baseline, while keeping the gist of the desired individual design characteristics.
    NASCAR has been using an unique design system for this project, providing a generic wind tunnel test car that features all the common aerodynamic surfaces built-in, and with the car makers then bolting on their own specific noses, tails and door panels.
    So car makers don't show up at the NASCAR wind tunnel tests with any real prototype race car but rather just with a lot of bolt-on panels.

   February, 2012: the new NASCAR Dodges (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    So ask Kevin Hunter, the Toyota design chief in charge of this NASCAR version, how much this race car model resembles the actual street car: 20 percent....80 percent?
   "It's hard to give a percentage of how much this represents Camry, but mainly our goal was to capture the spirit of Camry," Hunter says. "So when someone sees this, they'll say 'Oh, yeah, that's a Camry, no doubt.'
   "We've got the main 'character line' that runs from the front to the rear (on the race car it is much more prominent than on the street car). It's a wedge shape, that creates a shoulder which gives a lot of good stability.
    "And of course we had to create a lot of identity in the front end. We targeted the SE model, which is the sport model, and the lower intake has three openings.
    "The rear – the tail light graphics mainly, and some of the bumper, and the rear deck treatment."
    It's difficult to tell if the entire 2013 project is on target or far behind. It appears behind.
    There has been only one on-track test, in late January at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and reports from that test were not very positive.
    And there have subsequently been two major wind tunnel tests of the four models. NASCAR of course is trying to keep the four basically similar in aerodynamic drag, to keep the playing field level.
    Through all of this however, there has been virtually no data, track speeds, wind tunnel drag numbers, or anything publicly provided.

   May, 2012: the new 2013 NASCAR Chevy, still under wraps (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    In a curious project like this, there is naturally a nagging feeling that when the stock car tour gets to Daytona next February, one brand or one team will have figured out how to get an edge.
    Of course that's the way this sport used to be, for years.
    But since the 2007 car-of-tomorrow debut, the focus instead has been on keeping anyone from getting any clear edge.

    Andy Graves, Toyota's NASCAR field engineer, has been working on this 2013 project for a year and a half now.
    He says he confident all four brands will be pretty equal at Daytona.
   "We all want to put our identities into the cars...but the last thing I want is for Coach Gibbs or Michael Waltrip to ask me to go to dinner, because they feel one of the other manufacturers has an advantage over us," Graves says.   
   "That's really important to all of us, to be able to maintain that parity, and not feel one manufacturer can get a leg up on you on the aerodynamics side.
   "And we feel very confident with the set of parameters that we have produced for this car that that is not going to happen."
    The 800-pound elephant in this room, however, is the missing link in the 2013 puzzle, the 2013 Chevrolet.
    General Motors execs have yet to debut that model, and only last week finally picked a name, SS. And when it was revealed the NASCAR Chevy 2013 SS would be built in Australia, as a rear-wheel-drive model, well, it created more than a little confusion and controversy.
    Graves at least says he's seen the new Chevy. "I've seen the parts; we've have two wind tunnel tests, where each manufacturer had to bring its parts....and we've seen the parts, and it looks like a Chevrolet."

  NASCAR's Mike Helton: 2013 project is to help keep NASCAR relevant, and strengthen ties with Detroit car makers (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)





Parity in 2013?

Yep. Parity.. making sure that everybody is equal. Thats what has brought Nascar to the point its at today.

New Lineup

Good info, Mike. Thanks for the updates. Love the new Charger. It and the Ford look like race cars compared to the plain Jane Camry. I hope Dodge will put some money into their new teams and have 6-8 cars on the track every week. If they would back their teams better, I don't think Penske would be going to Ford. Any other news on when Dodge may announce who the new teams will be, Mike?

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com