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Toyota chief visits Daytona, test drives 2013 Camry

February 25, 2012, ,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Before race cars took to the track Saturday morning, another vehicle circled Daytona -- a two-seat, early version of Toyota's 2013 Sprint Cup car, carrying Kyle Busch and Akio Toyoda, president of the Toyota Motor Corp. It was the first visit to a NASCAR race for the man who runs one of the world's largest auto manufacturers.

Busch and Toyoda, who has participated in the 24 Hours of Nurburgring sports-car race and regularly tests Toyota passenger cars, took turns wheeling the vehicle on the high banks. "It's difficult to say in simple words," Toyoda said. "But this kind of 60 years tradition, the surface was just renewed, but I feel like it's 60 years of history, and I'm honored to have a chance to drive. ... It was kind of a special feeling for me."

Toyoda said he was impressed by how close fans could get to the cars and drivers before the Nationwide race, and could appreciate a NASCAR weekend as a cultural event. "It's like a part of a lifestyle, which is really supported and enjoyed by so many people, and I think it's wonderful," he said through an interpreter.

Toyoda, who has run the company since 2009, said Toyota's involvement in NASCAR has benefited the manufacturer's business in the United States, and over time he hopes the carmaker becomes as widely accepted by American fans as those based in Detroit. And Toyota isn't in NASCAR for the short term. "We want to continue this for a long time," he added.

So who drove that 2013 Camry faster -- him or Busch? "Maybe my answer and his will be different," Toyoda said with a laugh.