2024 marks new territory for Toyota as the manufacturer debuts the new Toyota Camry XSE for Cup Series competition.
The model replaces the Toyota Camry TRD that competed in the first two years of NASCAR’s seventh-generation stock car and is the fifth model Toyota has introduced for NASCAR’s premier series.
While introducing a new body presents questions that will need to be answered throughout the season, TRD president David Wilson has high hopes for the XSE.
“We believe that our new Camry is going to come out of the gates pretty strong,” Wilson said in a media conference Tuesday. “We all use the same tools to test and develop the bodies, and they’re all virtual. It’s CFD (computational fluid dynamics), and it’s time in the wind tunnel. From those metrics, from all that information, certainly, the numbers look good.”
In December, NASCAR held a two-day test at Phoenix Raceway to focus on what short-track racing will look like in 2024. Toyota brought a pair of cars out to the Grand Canyon State with Erik Jones and Christopher Bell, and the first impressions were positive.
“We had two cars on track with our new body. Gosh, we were, I think we were fastest every session,” Wilson said. “We did a couple little mock racing runs, and Christopher went from the back to the front. When he was in front, he gapped the field. It’s the only data point we have, and everyone felt good.
“I think this is the best body that we’ve ever taken to the race track. Obviously, experience will prove that out. I will qualify the wild card, and that is NASCAR’s change to the short-track package.”
Earlier in January, NASCAR established the rules package for short tracks and road courses in 2024.
The key new component to the package is a simplified rear diffuser with fewer vertical strakes to cut downforce. To compensate for reduced downforce, the rear spoiler will increase from two to three inches in height.
“With the rear diffuser, they’ve taken some downforce off the car. We think we’re going to be OK,” Wilson said. “Cautiously optimistic, but I think we’re the same as everybody else holding our breath a little bit at the same time to see what we see once we get to Phoenix.”
Toyota also expanded its footprint in the Cup Series, adding Legacy Motor Club to the manufacturer to now have three organizations under the banner and eight full-time teams. It’s the first time Toyota has fielded eight Cup teams since 2011.
With that comes familiar faces as Matt Kenseth was hired in the offseason as a competition adviser for Legacy. Erik Jones returns to piloting a Toyota after spending his first few years in the Cup Series with Joe Gibbs Racing, and John Hunter Nemechek gets the call back to the Cup Series after winning seven races with JGR in the Xfinity Series in 2023.
Toyota’s debuting face is only a seven-time Cup champion and one of the latest inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“We take a great amount of responsibility anytime a new organization signs on to Toyota, and to have someone like Jimmie Johnson, a Hall of Famer now and a seven-time champion, and someone who’s only run with one OEM their entire career, that’s a massive pressure, ” Wilson said. “It’s a massive accountability and responsibility that we take very seriously.”
Legacy suffered growing pains in 2023 as both teams finished 27th and 32nd in the owner points, respectively.
Signs are pointing to growth for Legacy, but Wilson is reserved in his outlook for the organization this upcoming season.
“We have to moderate our expectations. They have decided to go solo without any alliance, and that’s going to be a steeper hill to climb,” Wilson said. “We’re actually supportive of that because I think we believe that presents a natural competition hedge to our overall strategy, and I think that’s healthy.
“I’d like to see them running consistently in the top 20. I’d like to see them leading some laps, and certainly, when it comes to speedway races, all bets are off. There’s no reason why they can’t be running up front and challenging for wins.”
For Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing, Wilson said he’s expecting all four JGR cars and both 23XI cars to make the playoffs while adding that Ty Gibbs should reach Victory Lane in his sophomore campaign.
Toyota will debut its new organization and body Sunday, Feb. 4, at the exhibition Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (8 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).