A Toyota Camry Hybrid will pace the upcoming NASCAR race at Lowes Motor Speedway on May 24th in Charlotte, NC. According to Toyota, this event "will mark the first time in Cup Series history a hybrid vehicle will serve as the official pace car for an entire race." Wait a minute, didn't a Ford Fusion Hybrid pace a NASCAR event last year?

Yes, it did. But, the Blue Oval's hybrid didn't pace the entire event as the Camry Hybrid will. The New York Times has an interesting take on why this distinction may exist, and we think they might be on to something. Check it out here.

Regardless of the hyperbole that goes along with the announcement, it's still interesting to see hybrids used in racing activities such as this, and it further shows that automakers see the need to promote their eco-friendly vehicles just as much as their performance credentials.

[Source Toyota, NY Times]

PRESS RELEASE:

Toyota hybrid to become first race-long pace car

TORRANCE, Calif. -- When a Toyota Camry Hybrid leads the 43-car starting field to the green flag for the 50th running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, it will mark the first time in Cup Series history a hybrid vehicle will serve as the official pace car for an entire race.

"Toyota is the leading seller of hybrids in the U.S. with more than a million on the road, so it's appropriate the Camry Hybrid is the first to pace a NASCAR race from start to finish," said Ed Laukes, corporate motorsports marketing manager, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. "It's a tribute to the torque and other performance characteristics of the Camry Hybrid that allows it to meet NASCAR's requirements for pacing the longest race of the season."
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* Find the Golden Can sweeps
* Stay in the loop on the 600
* Get your tickets for all events

Built at the Toyota manufacturing facility in Georgetown, Ky., the Toyota Camry Hybrid is a 187-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder vehicle that gets an EPA estimated combined average of 33 miles per gallon. Before being approved to serve as the pace car for the 600-mile race the Camry Hybrid had to pass a NASCAR-mandated performance test.

In order to qualify as a pace car for the race at LMS, a vehicle is required to reach speeds close to 100 mph from a stand-by position near the exit of pit road to the time it reaches the exit of Turn 2, a distance of approximately one-quarter-mile. In conjunction with Lowe's Motor Speedway and Coca-Cola, the fan who finds the one 'golden can' in specially marked, 50th anniversary 12-packs of Coca-Cola sold throughout the Southeast, or is selected in a sweepstakes drawing, will win the actual Camry Hybrid pace car.

In addition to the Coca-Cola 600 and the October race at LMS, the Toyota Camry Hybrid will serve as the official pace car for future events at Infineon, Chicagoland, Watkins Glen and Martinsville.

Toyota has been a participant in the upper levels of NASCAR since 2004 when the manufacturer joined the Truck Series with the Tundra. In 2007, Toyota expanded its presence in the sport by fielding Camrys in both the Cup and Nationwide series.

Since its debut in the sport, Toyota has won four manufacturers' championships -- three consecutive Truck titles from 2006-08, and the '08 title in the Nationwide Series. In addition, Toyota drivers have won two Truck drivers' championships -- Todd Bodine in '06 and Johnny Benson in '08 -- along with the '08 Nationwide owners' title with Joe Gibbs Racing.

In 2009, Toyota drivers have combined for seven wins, 26 top-five finishes and 50 top-10 results across NASCAR's three premier series.

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