Toyota introduced its new model for the NASCAR Cup Series on Monday, taking the wraps off a race car with a fresh look and a familiar nameplate for 2024 — the Camry XSE Next Gen.
The model replaces the Toyota Camry TRD that competed in the first two seasons of NASCAR’s seventh-generation stock-car platform, and the design emulates the road-going 2025 model-year Camry that’s set to go on sale this spring. It’s the fifth model that Toyota has introduced for NASCAR’s top division, and it continues the industry-wide push in recent years toward strengthening carmakers’ brand identity, incorporating many of the passenger car’s design cues.
“What’s most important, really, is the process, the commitment that the OEMs have with NASCAR, to make sure that we race what we sell,” said David Wilson, Toyota Racing Development (TRD) USA president. “It wasn’t always that way. It was just since 2013 that we came to this new way of doing it, and honestly, I think it’s still one of the best initiatives that NASCAR has brought to the sport because it’s allowed our fans to truly identify a Toyota Camry versus a Ford Mustang and a Chevrolet Camaro. …
“All of those features are incorporated in our new Camry, and somehow, our really smart aerodynamicists have got it to look pretty good in the wind tunnel. So I love it when we can build a great-looking car and a car that’s true to the design, but it’s going to be good on the race track as well.”
Toyota is the second original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) to reveal a new Cup Series model this month. On Nov. 1, Ford released images of its 2024 Mustang Dark Horse for NASCAR competition. Chevrolet, the third automaker involved in NASCAR’s three national series, will continue with its Camaro ZL1 this season but could potentially shift to a new model for future Cup and Xfinity Series campaigns after the Camaro’s production run ends early next year.
The passenger-car version of the 2025 Toyota Camry line was unveiled Nov. 14 at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The race-ready rendition will make its competition debut roughly two miles south in the Busch Light Clash exhibition at the LA Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 4 (8 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) before starting the season in earnest with the 66th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
When the Camry XSE does hit the track, viewers should note significant differences from nose to tail. Toyota, its TRD arm and the Calty Design studio collaborated on the race car’s design, and much of the street-car version’s thoroughly restyled look carries over.
Up front, the Camry XSE race car features what the manufacturer calls “hammerhead styling” with the slim upper grille opening that connects to the sharply angled headlights. Below that feature, an expanded lower grill is flanked by a pair of curved vents; above, the hood is shaped by distinctive new lines and reworked duct exits. Out back, slimmer taillight details cap off the updated rear of the car, with sloping corners that lead to the bumper from the redesigned quarter panels.
The overall design of Toyota’s new Cup Series racer serves to bolster the brand identity tied to one of its longest-running and best-selling vehicle names. But there’s also a competition component, Wilson says, that’s another important piece to the effort. So far, the early tests and computer modeling have him hopeful that the Camry XSE ticks both boxes, staying competitive within the series’ performance equation.
“We don’t race in wind tunnels, and we don’t race downforce and drag numbers, but that does give us the best indication of what we can expect, and we were really pleased with that,” Wilson says. “And then the collaboration we have with our fellow OEMs is pretty important because the only way that this process works is for us to agree what the performance parameters are that we have to work within. So there is a box, we call it, and in every OEM, when we submit a new body, it has to — the downforce, drag, side-force, all of those parameters — have to fit within this box.
“Now the trick is, there’s a corner of that box that you want to get as close to as possible, which is the optimization of downforce and drag, and you only get so many attempts to do it. And so, again, it’s a real credit to our folks here at TRD who were able to really optimize our numbers in the wind tunnel. Again, the proof will be in the pudding when we get to the race track, but we’re certainly optimistic at this point.”
The street-car Camry’s other twist is that it is only available as a hybrid-electric vehicle, carrying a “Beyond Zero” badge that reflects Toyota’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions. Press releases for the new vehicle included a reference to “electrification for all,” with hybrid technology standard across all four Camry trim levels, including its front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions.
That movement toward carbon neutrality for consumers and a more modest-sounding power delivery might run crosscurrent to the race-ready version and the growl of full-bodied V8s. NASCAR competition officials, however, have explored the potential of fuel alternatives and other technologies, building an electric vehicle as part of its research and launching the NASCAR Impact initiative this year with a commitment to net-zero operating emissions by 2035.
Wilson says NASCAR is not alone in the motorsports world in addressing those issues and moving toward a carbon-neutral future, but that keeping the immersive sound of stock-car racing should also remain a priority.
“As to the product that we race, certainly we can’t ignore that. That’s the sexiest part of the event when we show up at the race track,” Wilson says. “And yes, the OEMs have been working in concert with NASCAR. This is something we address every quarter when we get together to talk about the sport and where we go forward in the sport. NASCAR is looking at electrification, but they’re not focused on one technology over another right now. And I think we all want to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we’re in the entertainment business, and if we don’t have a fan base if the fans don’t show up to watch a race, if they don’t turn the television or their streaming device on, then we don’t have a sport.
“So I think there’s certain facets of the sport that that you can’t turn off, and you can’t turn off the volume. That is integral to our sport, and so I think there are other solutions that can address carbon reduction and still maintain the volume that our fans love, and that’s something that we’re working on. It’s something that all the automakers are working on, and so we’ve got work to do, but again, I think we’re doing a good job of getting out in front of it and looking at its options moving forward.”
For now, one of the bigger differences for Toyota teams in the 2024 season is that there will be more of them. Joe Gibbs Racing will mark its 17th year with the automaker, and 23XI Racing will continue its alliance for its fourth Cup Series season. But the number of Camrys on track will swell from six to eight with the addition of Legacy Motor Club, which has evolved rapidly in recent years since the merger that brought team owners Maury Gallagher and Richard Petty together, with Jimmie Johnson joining the ownership group last year.
Wilson said TRD has long maintained a “quality vs. quantity” approach to adding new Cup Series teams, saying that “the sweet spot is somewhere between eight to 10” cars. But that transition for the Legacy M.C. group will also mean a hectic offseason, shifting its bodies, engines and other components from Chevrolet to Toyota – including preparing a new Camry for Erik Jones, incumbent driver of the No. 43, for a test at Phoenix Raceway on Dec. 5-6.
Wilson said that Legacy Motor Club has made significant progress in meeting those goals and that Toyota was hands-off as the 2023 season wound down out of respect to the team’s existing agreement with Chevy. Wilson said that the Monday after the season finale at Phoenix, the switch flipped to “all hands on deck” to provide assistance to LMC, which has opted to enter its new era without a technical alliance to an existing Toyota team.
“I’ll also be fair to say that we have to moderate our expectations in year one,” Wilson says. “I would say the measuring stick would be the first year of 23XI. Now, to be fair, they won in their first year and arguably, I would say, they punched above their weight their first two years as a brand-new racing team. So what Legacy Motor Club has going for them is they’re not a brand-new team, and so that should help them, but, again, we have to be realistic.
“The other part … is Maury and Jimmie have decided by and large to do this on their own and not to lean on big technical alliances with JGR or 23XI. So, of course, TRD, we are a technical partner, and we’re going to be engaged in various capacities. Obviously, we’re going to be providing our Toyota TRD engines to them from Southern California, but many other facets of technology out of our facilities in North Carolina.”