Michael L. Levitt

Toyota unveils new Camry for NASCAR

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DETROIT – The “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” mantra won’t hold true immediately with Toyota’s latest entry in NASCAR.

Oh, the redesigned Camry – with a distinctive front end and aggressive stylings for a typically conservative automaker – might have its sales numbers goosed by strong results on the track.

But if a Toyota takes the checkered flag next month at Daytona International Speedway, it’ll be several months before fans can invest their loyalty in their showroom.

That’s because it’ll be a 2018 Camry that will be competing in the 2017 Daytona 500.

22-23 November, 2016, Anaheim, California, USA ©2016, Michael L. Levitt
A look at the 2018 Toyota Camry and the Camry model that will be run in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season. Photo: 
©2016, Michael L. Levitt

In a Monday afternoon announcement at the North American International Auto Show (where more than 5,000 journalists were credentialed for this week’s event), Toyota revealed an overhauled Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race car in conjunction with the unveil of its production counterpart that will make a debut in late summer.

Ed Laukes, vice president of integrated marketing for Toyota Motor Sales, said the car’s design was the impetus for the unprecedented move of bringing it to track ahead of market (it likely will be available to the public in August).

“As soon as they unveiled the drawings (of the 2018 car) to us, we looked and said, ‘This is such a radical design, that we really need to figure out a way to get it on the racetrack as soon as possible,’ ” Laukes said. “Rather than wait until the year after it went on sale.”

Camry chief designer Masato Katsumata was involved in helping approve the race car design along with engineers from Calty Design Research, Inc. (Toyota’s North American design studio) and Toyota Racing Development. Calty (Newport Beach) and TRD (Costa Mesa) are headquartered in neighboring cities in Southern California.

The development of the 2018 model started two years ago as TRD rolled out an update of the Gen 6 Camry that made its debut in 2013 and won 16 of 36 Cup points races last year.

David Wilson, TRD president and general manager, said the new Camry was tested last June with NASCAR and representatives of Ford and General Motors, but Monday’s announcement mostly had been kept under wraps during the building process.

To preserve the secrecy of the project, Toyota had its NASCAR team members sign non-disclosure agreements. Last September, Joe Gibbs Racing installed new windows in its fan viewing area to obscure the work done with the new car on the shop floor of its Huntersville, N.C., headquarters.

Wilson said Toyota involved its teams more heavily in the car’s aerodynamic development.

“We had them work with us side by side as we’re designing this because they’ve got very, very smart aerodynamicists,” Wilson said. “So the intent is to hit the ground running at Daytona with being further along than the past two generations” of the Gen 6 car.

22-23 November, 2016, Anaheim, California, USA ©2016, Michael L. Levitt
The new Toyota Camry that will be run this season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Photo:
©2016, Michael L. Levitt

Wilson said NASCAR sets limits on the advances made with increasing downforce while lowering drag but “every time a manufacturer has a shot at building a new car and evolving a new car, you try to work closer and closer to the corner of the lowest drag and highest downforce.”

Said Laukes: “Everyone operates within the box on downforce and drag, and as long as you’re operating in that box, it passes the test. So there are always minor tweaks that everyone is doing as far as sheet metal, but it’s still going to operate within that NASCAR-approved box of downforce and drag. I think we’re always looking to try to make things better, but you can’t get radical, because then you’re outside the rules.”

The Camry will make its competitive debut Feb. 18 in The Clash at Daytona exhibition race. There will be no preseason testing at the track for the new model, but Wilson said the high fidelity of computer simulations would mitigate the lack of real-world experience.

“The tools that each of us have available now, you know what (the car) should do,” Wilson said. “There’s a tangible ‘We want to get it on the track’ feeling, but it’s not necessary.”

Laukes said the next step for Toyota in NASCAR car development would be a new model for the Xfinity Series. While Ford (Mustang) and Chevrolet (Camaro) use different models in the second-tier circuit than in Cup, Toyota campaigns a Camry.

“The current Xfinity car will live on at least a year, probably two within Xfinity,” Laukes said. “Then we’ll redesign or talk about some other future model to unveil in that time.”

The Camry has been the No. 1-selling vehicle in the country for 15 consecutive years (more than 400,000 sold last year), but Laukes said consumers overwhelmingly are moving toward trucks and SUVs away from mid- and luxury sedans.

“Things like this hopefully will stop the bleeding of people making that transition from a four-door sedan to an SUV,” Laukes said.

It’s the second straight year that a manufacturer has introduced an update to its Cup Series model. Ford updated its Fusion model last year.

Erik Jones fastest in 1st of 2 Cup practices at Fontana; Harvick, Ragan hit wall

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NASCAR Cup rookie Erik Jones was fastest in the first of two practice sessions Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in preparation for Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

Jones drove his No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota to the top of the speed charts at the Fontana, California track with a best lap of 187.251, the only driver to exceed 187 mph.

Jones was followed by Chase Elliott (186.843), Ryan Newman (186.732), Jimmie Johnson (186.384) and Brad Keselowski (186.292).

There were two incidents of note during the session:

* With just over nine minutes remaining in the practice session, Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet hit hard into the outside retaining wall, sustaining damage on the right side.

However, the team chose to repair the damage rather than go to a backup car.

Prior to the incident, Harvick’s car was sixth-fastest (186.128 mph).

* In the final two minutes, David Ragan spun and impacted the Turn 3 wall. It appeared something came loose from under Ragan’s car before impact.

Given the amount of damage, Ragan will likely have to go to a backup car.

Click here for how Saturday’s first of two practice sessions played out:

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Danica Patrick: ‘NASCAR makes a really big mistake of fining for some stuff’

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Danica Patrick wants her money back. Or she at least wants to know what it bought.

Fined $70,000 over the past 17 months for intentionally wrecking a rival driver under caution and tossing and walking onto the track to gesture at another, Patrick was asked Friday at Auto Club Speedway how she felt about Austin Dillon avoiding a fine for crashing Cole Custer under caution at Phoenix.

Give me my money back,” the Stewart-Haas Racing driver said. “I think NASCAR makes a really big mistake of fining for some stuff, especially something that happens in the car because it makes for good TV, just like fights and all that stuff.  We can handle it.

“I think it’s a mistake.  I might be speaking too much, but I’ve been fined a few times, and I think that it makes for good TV, and I think that we handle it out on the track ourselves.”

NASCAR has said it funnels the fine payments to the NASCAR Foundation, which supports several charitable organizations.

Patrick would prefer NASCAR avoid fining everyone but is curious about how the money gets earmarked.

“I would actually rather know what it did,” she said. “I would actually love to see like the playground that got built for it, or homeless people that got food.  I would like to see actually what the money does for fines because it’s supposed to go to charity, right?  So what does it really do?  I would like to see that.”

Today’s Xfinity race at Auto Club Speedway: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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After four races, Xfinity Series regulars have won twice (Ryan Reed at Daytona and Justin Allgaier at Phoenix) and Cup drivers have won twice (Kyle Busch at Atlanta and Joey Logano at Las Vegas). The Xfinity Series regulars will look to take the lead in that category at Auto Club Speedway.

Here are the particulars for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Stu Crum, COO of Service King, will give the command for drivers to start engines at 4:07 p.m. ET. The green flag is scheduled for 4:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 150 laps (300 miles) around the 2-mile oval.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Xfinity garage opens at 10 a.m. The drivers meeting is at 2:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3:35 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Karen Waldrup will perform the Anthem at 4:01 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race at 4 p.m. Its coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com. MRN’s coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 63 degrees at race time with a 7 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Austin Dillon took the lead on a wild final lap and went on to win. Kyle Busch led and cut a tire. Daniel Suarez took the lead but ran out of fuel. Busch managed to retake the lead. Dillon got by Busch for the lead in Turn 4 after hitting the wall. Busch finished second and Darrell Wallace Jr. was third.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying at 12:30 p.m.

NASCAR’s Saturday schedule at Auto Club Speedway

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The Xfinity Series ends its part of the “West Coast swing” today with the Service King 300.

But the day is filled with Cup Series practice and Xfinity qualifying prior to the race.

Here is the full schedule for the day with TV and radio info.

All times are Eastern.

Saturday, March 25

10 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

10 a.m. – 6 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:30 a.m. – 12:25 p.m. – Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

12:30 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying; single vehicle/two rounds (FS1)

2:15 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting

2:30 – 3:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

3:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

4 p.m. – Service King 300 Xfinity race; 150 laps/300 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)