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Toyota’s entry into Nextel Cup in 2007 was revealed at a news conference in Concord, N.C., last week where this Camry was displayed.
Toyota’s entry into Nextel Cup in 2007 was revealed at a news conference in Concord, N.C., last week where this Camry was displayed. (GREGG ELLMAN/FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM/KRT)

Toyota joins NASCAR's good ol' boys

CONCORD, N.C. -- Not everyone is pleased that Japanese automaker Toyota is preparing to join the ranks of America's most celebrated good ol' boys.

NASCAR and Toyota officials revealed last week that the car company will enter its Camry model in both the Nextel Cup and Busch Series, beginning in 2007.

Team owner Jack Roush, who runs cars in each of the three top NASCAR series and whose drivers have won two of the last three Cup titles, offered a warning about Toyota's move up.

''If NASCAR manages to get in front of Toyota and tell them what they want to do and enforce it, they'll be the first sanctioning body that ever did that," said Roush, whose team runs Fords.

''I'll watch with some interest, I'd like to say from a safe distance, but my distance is not far enough to be safe."

Toyota, which has competed in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series the past two seasons, was given NASCAR chairman Brian France's blessing.

France told more than 200 reporters taking part in the first day of the annual preseason media tour: ''Toyota has proven in the truck series it can be a great partner. NASCAR offered them the best opportunity to build their presence in racing in North America, and we're glad they are here."

Toyota will be the first foreign competitor in NASCAR's top series since Jaguar ran in several races in the 1950s. The Camry is an eligible model in NASCAR because it is built in Georgetown, Ky., one of eight Toyota plants in the United States.

Toyota, becoming increasingly successful in the United States even as General Motors and Ford struggle, has previously been involved in American sports car racing and open-wheel racing. The company has been known in the past for inflating the cost of racing with its free spending, sometimes dominating the series and having a major effect on the rules before leaving for greener pastures.

Toyota also competes in Formula One and reportedly has a budget of $400 million a year.

''I'm concerned," said team owner Ray Evernham, whose team will run Dodges in all three of NASCAR's top series in 2006. ''But NASCAR has to make sure that they keep a handle on it because, if [Toyota] has got a billion dollars to spend, they're going to wipe us out.

''If you can still win a championship on 20 million and somebody else is spending 50 [million], it doesn't matter. But, if it takes 50 [million] to win a championship, you're done. So, NASCAR, more than ever, has to police things. There's a lot of work to do on the competition side.

''NASCAR has done a great job branding, a great job marketing, helping everyone with business," Evernham added. ''But, right now, it's time to focus on what competition's going to be five years from now."

In the truck series, Toyota brought in a costly factory team approach, making quick inroads by producing the engines and chassis for all of its teams.

Toyota official Dave Illingworth said that will not be the case in Cup and Busch.

''There will be no Toyota-branded teams or cars," he said. ''Teams will bring their own sponsorship and we will provide only technical support, much as the other manufacturers in those series have done in the past."

France said he believes Toyota, which will also continue to compete in trucks, will approach the Cup and Busch in the proper way.

''They recognize that [centralizing their teams] wasn't how NASCAR [works] and wasn't going to be in their best interest in the future," France said.

Roush hopes that is the way it really works out once Toyota becomes established in Cup and Busch.

''But they operated their truck teams as one program and made the team owners just name owners only, in order to justify what they were doing," he said. ''But they have the same cars and the same engines and the same technology and wound up ruling that thing with pretty much of an iron hand.

''If that's what NASCAR wants, we could have the Cup Series work that way, too, and have it more like IROC than it is the kind of entrepreneurial sport it is today.

''But I don't think that's where it will go. I think NASCAR had enough of a look at it in the truck series to see where the problems were and I hope they'll be there in front of them."

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