Toyota has just raised its profile in NASCAR's top racing series. For the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup (née NEXTEL Cup) season, Joe Gibbs Racing will trade in its Chevrolets for Toyota Camrys (or at least cars with Toyota Camry headlight and grille stickers decorating their noses). In terms of star power, it means that Toyota picks up some very big names in Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin. Stewart showed how receptive he was to the change by announcing plans to sign a contract extension with JGR that keeps him on the NFL coaching legend's race team through the '09 season.

In a piece he wrote for FOXSports.com, Darryl Waltrip (whose brother Michael's team also runs Toyotas) said that the deal is a boon for both Toyota and JGR, because the adoption of the Car of Tomorrow for the full season next year basically levels the playing field where the cars themselves are concerned. The engines will be the difference-makers on the technical front. Waltrip feels that Gibbs' excellent engineering team will work wonders with the Toyota race engine, and that the JGR Camrys should be competitive right away. We'll see how right or wrong he is on Sunday, February 17, 2008, when the green flag waves at Daytona.

Follow the jump for press releases from Toyota and JGR.

Thanks for the tip, Saimin.

[Sources: Toyota Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, NYT Wheels Blog, FOX Sports]


PRESS RELEASE:
TOYOTA AND JOE GIBBS RACING TO TEAM UP FOR 2008 NASCAR SPRINT CUP AND GRAND NATIONAL SERIES

TORRANCE, Calif. (September 5, 2007) -- Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., and Joe Gibbs Racing announced today that the three-time championship-winning race team will campaign Toyota Camrys for drivers Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch in the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Joe Gibbs Racing's NASCAR Grand National Series program will also utilize Toyota Camrys next season.

Joe Gibbs Racing will be joining Bill Davis Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Team Red Bull as the teams that will be racing the 'Most Popular Car in America' when the 2008 season kicks-off next February at Daytona International Speedway.

"Joe Gibbs Racing is one of the most respected teams in NASCAR, a championship-caliber race team and a first-class organization," said Jim Aust, vice president of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., and president and CEO of TRD, U.S.A. (Toyota Racing Development). "We are confident that partnering with the Gibbs team will raise the level of our entire Toyota NASCAR program, and will be beneficial to all of the current teams racing the Toyota Camry."

"Our motorsports heritage has taught us the value of working with experienced teams and partners," Aust said. "We have built excellent relationships with the current teams as we have developed the Toyota Camry Cup program during our first year of NASCAR competition, and we look forward to developing a similar relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing."

"Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota want to be competitive now and for generations to come," said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing. "We have the same mindset in terms of performance and technology. We want to be the team to beat. They want to be the manufacturer to beat. That's a combination that works for us, for them, and our sponsors."

The addition of Joe Gibbs Racing to Toyota's NASCAR fold adds luster to a legacy 25 years in the making. Toyota began its full-scale American motorsports involvement 25 years ago in both IMSA sports cars, and off-road stadium and desert truck racing. Along the way, Toyota has won championships and races in Champ Car, IRL, sports car, and off-road.

Toyota began competing in NASCAR in the 2000 Goody's Dash Series and became a participant in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2004. In addition to entering the Camry in Cup Series and Busch Series competition this season, Toyota has continued to participate in the Craftsman Truck Series with the Tundra.

Highlights from Toyota's NASCAR activities include the 2003 Dash Series driver's title (Robert Huffman) and the 2006 manufacturer's and driver's championships (Todd Bodine) in the Craftsman Truck Series, as well as a Busch Series victory (Jason Leffler) at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis earlier this year. Brian Vickers fifth-place finish at Charlotte's Lowe's Motor Speedway has been the best finish by the Toyota Camry in the Nextel Cup Series this season.

The Toyota Camry has been the best-selling car in America for four straight years and eight of the past nine years. Assembled at Toyota's Georgetown, Kentucky plant, more than six million Camry models have been sold in the United States since its debut 23 years ago.

In 1992, Joe Gibbs Racing made its NASCAR debut with driver Dale Jarrett and sponsor Interstate Batteries. Since their initial season in NASCAR Cup competition, the team has captured series titles with Tony Stewart (2002 and 2005) and Bobby Labonte (2000), and has won over 70 races (Cup and Busch).

TRD, U.S.A. (Toyota Racing Development)

Powering all of Toyota's American racing programs is TRD, U.S.A. (Toyota Racing Development) in Costa Mesa, Calif., and Mooresville, N.C. A subsidiary of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., TRD serves as the North American racing arm for design, development and assembly of Toyota's factory racing engines. In addition, TRD is also the source of high-performance aftermarket products for both street performance and grassroots racing Toyotas. From the race track to the aftermarket product segment, TRD plays a key role in providing Toyota with an enhanced performance image.

TOYOTA IN AMERICA

Toyota has ten manufacturing facilities in the United States, with one more currently under construction in Mississippi. With a strong manufacturing presence in the country, it's no surprise that more than half the Toyota vehicles sold in the United States are built here -- using many American-sourced parts. Toyota's overall commitment translates into manufacturing plants, sales and marketing operations, and research and design facilities throughout the United States, where Toyota directly employs more than 32,000. Since 1986, the company has built more than 12 million cars and trucks in the U.S. As one of the world's leading automakers, Toyota offers a full range of models from mini-vehicles to sedans to large trucks. For more information on Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., please visit www.toyota.com.

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Joe Gibbs Racing to Switch to Toyota in 2008
Team Will Field Camrys in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Grand National Series

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 5, 2007) – Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), winners of three NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championships and over 70 NASCAR races, will campaign Toyota Camrys in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Grand National Series beginning in 2008.

"We look forward to partnering with Toyota in NASCAR in 2008. Toyota will be hands-on with us as we become an integral part of their long-term development in NASCAR," said J.D. Gibbs, president of JGR.

"We have 420-plus families that are our number one priority, and taking care of them for the future is very important to us. Our people have made us as successful as we are today, and it's those same people who will ensure our success in the future. When our teams win, those families win. We're thrilled for everyone at JGR who will benefit from this."

"This decision was made by all of the key leadership at JGR," said Jimmy Makar, senior vice president of racing operations for JGR. "It was a decision made by the people in our competition department, who live by the one question whenever a decision is made regarding Joe Gibbs Racing: 'Will this make us more competitive on the race track?' The consensus answer was yes."

JGR has been associated with General Motors since its debut in the 1992 Daytona 500. The team fielded Chevrolets from 1992 through 1996, switched to Pontiac in 1997, and then switched back to Chevrolet in 2003. Two of its championships came with Pontiac – Bobby Labonte in 2000 and Tony Stewart in 2002 – while the most recent championship came with Chevrolet in 2005 at the hands of Stewart. Two of JGR's drivers – Stewart and Denny Hamlin – are currently in position to challenge for this year's championship.

"General Motors has been a great partner to Joe Gibbs Racing, and we've been able to celebrate many victories together," said Joe Gibbs, owner and founder of JGR. "GM has many great teams, and moving forward, we know they will continue to be very successful. It's our hope we can deliver to GM their 38th Cup Series championship this season as a way to cap our 16-year relationship with them."

"Joe Gibbs Racing is one of the most respected teams in NASCAR, a championship-caliber race team and a first-class organization," said Jim Aust, vice president of Toyota Motorsports and president and CEO of Toyota Racing Development, USA. "We are confident that partnering with the Gibbs team will raise the level of our entire Toyota NASCAR program, and will be beneficial to all of our current teams racing the Toyota Camry."