Toyota president drives Daytona in 2013 race car
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—About an hour before the final practice for the Daytona 500, there was one car circling the track.
It was camouflaged with a zebra-striped paint scheme, but there were plenty of people who knew exactly what it was doing out there. Toyota secretly unveiled its 2013 Camry at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, showing off a two-seat prototype for company president Akio Toyoda.
Toyoda and NASCAR driver Kyle Busch each turned 10 laps on the high-banked speedway in the new car.
"Although we didn't show it today, the styling we want to really look like Camry, and I really hope that the fans of NASCAR would love it," Toyoda said afterward.
Toyoda traveled from Japan to get a firsthand look at the company's newest racing car, which officially will be unveiled May 22 in Salisbury, N.C.
Toyoda also toured Daytona International Speedway, met with Toyota drivers Michael Waltrip, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr., and sat down with a few media members. He raved about the history of Daytona and said it was an honor to turn laps at NASCAR's most famous track.
He also was interested in learning more about American racing.
"As far as I am concerned this is the first time that I have come here and really seen it for myself," he said through a translator. "However, I've been always interested in this great sort of a cultural event, the racing activity in the United States, which is really supported by many sponsors and fans.
"I was always interested in this. So this time I got to come here, and I haven't really, you know, seen everything on the ground yet. But it's like a part of a lifestyle, which is really supported and enjoyed by so many people, and I think it's wonderful."
And no media session would be complete without a question about former IndyCar star Danica Patrick, who is making a full-time jump to stock cars this year.
"Actually, to be honest, I was a bit surprised that in the history, over 60 years, there weren't that many female drivers," he said. "But I think it's really great for NASCAR's sake to have a female driver like her and be so actively successful and be supported by so many people. But I'm glad that it was (Kyle) Busch that I rode with today. If it had been her riding with me, I may have driven differently."
WEATHER WARNING: The Daytona 500 might be stalled by rain delays.
According to The Weather Channel, there is a 50 percent chance of showers Sunday.
NASCAR officials are confident the rain will be intermittent and won't cause any lengthy delays or force the race to be postponed until Monday.
"We will do everything we possibly can to get the event in (Sunday)," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said.
Temperatures plummeted more than 20 degrees Saturday, creating sweater weather in central Florida and giving teams more ideal racing conditions.
FINAL TUNEUP: Amid cooler temperatures, David Gilliland and Trevor Bayne topped 200 mph in the final practice session.
Gilliland reached 200.138 mph during his fast lap Saturday, which was more than 20 degrees cooler than the past few days.
Former Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray posted the fastest 10-lap average at 195.650 mph. Paul Menard was second, followed by Danica Patrick, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch.
Kurt Busch turned the most laps (37) during the 90-minute session. He also hit a bird that may have caused minor damage to his grill.
Seven drivers, including former NASCAR champions Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, did not leave the garage. Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Casey Mears, Terry Labonte and Landon Cassill also opted not to take to the track Saturday.
GREEN FLAG: In another sign that environmental awareness is beginning to take hold in NASCAR, Roush Fenway Racing is switching all its Sprint Cup and Nationwide teams to a brand of motor oil that features 50 percent recycled oil.
Valvoline's NextGen brand will be in the engines of Roush Fenway's cars all season.
Roush Yates Engines began testing it last year to make sure it could handle the rigors of racing, and it was used on a limited basis on the track by Roush Fenway last season.
"We are confident that this recycled oil product will stand up to the rigors of our engines and it furthers our sustainability efforts in the process," team co-owner Jack Roush said.