Concord, N.C.--Toyota ended months of rumor and speculation within the motorsports community when it announced Monday that it will begin competing in NASCAR's Nextel Cup and Busch series in 2007.

The automaker has a long history of motorsports involvement but only recently began competing in NASCAR. Toyota made its first foray into stock car racing in 2000 when it entered the NASCAR Goody's Dash Series. That was followed by the company's entry into the Craftsman Truck Series, where Toyota competed the past two seasons.

Teams aligned with Toyota will field the company's popular Camry model in Cup and Busch competition.

Many see the automaker's entry into NASCAR's top divisions as the beginning of a new way of doing business in NASCAR. Toyota has the reputation of being especially tenacious and willing to spend money in pursuit of a competitive advantage.

"It's just going to be different because they have a different way of racing than we do," said Jack Roush, whose Roush Racing won the Cup championship in 2003 with Matt Kenseth and 2004 with Kurt Busch.

Roush, who has deep ties with Ford Motor Company and is not known for his ready acceptance of change within the sport, said the move is welcome. He did, however, express concern over the company's record of bringing about change in the sport.

"They have every right to be here," said Roush. "Based on the way they have dealt with the other series that they've been in (CART and the IRL, among others), and what's happened to the series after they've arrived, and what happened to the series after they left, NASCAR will have to think about what they will allow them to do here in changing the order of things, technologically, or the way we staff and the other things that we do. They have a way of carrying a different level of involvement than would otherwise be justified."

NASCAR may have already addressed Roush's concerns, however, as Toyota announced there will be a major difference when teams begin fielding its cars. Toyota Racing Development built the Tundra trucks and provided support to the teams competing under its banner in the Truck Series, but that will change as the company's involvement will be structured in a more traditional way when Toyota enters Cup and Busch competition.

"So, like the other manufacturers, we will provide technical support that will vary depending on the needs of the individual teams," said Dave Illingworth, Jr., a senior vice president with Toyota.

Illingworth also said Toyota will not sponsor any of the teams in Cup or Busch.

The announcement was made on Monday at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, during a press conference that kicked off the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway. Illingworth and NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France were among those in attendance.

"They've already proven they can be a great partner of ours," said France. "They've proven they can build relationships with team owners (and) they can enhance the competition. I don't think anybody will debate that they have added an enormous amount to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and have elevated that series on the track."

The move into NASCAR's top divisions will come in the same year as Toyota celebrates its 50th anniversary in the United States.

CAR OF TOMORROW

NASCAR also announced the schedule for introduction of its Car of Tomorrow, developed by Gary Nelson and his staff at the R&D Center. The car will be in competition for 16 events in 2007, beginning with Bristol Motor Speedway's spring race.

"The Car of Tomorrow represents one of the sport's most significant innovations, and we feel everyone involved in NASCAR will experience the benefits," said

Mike Helton, president of NASCAR, during the press conference. "No subject is more important than safety, and while the Car of Tomorrow was built around safety considerations, the competition and cost improvements will prove vital as well."

Tracks were the car will be used in 2007 include, in addition to Bristol, Phoenix International Raceway, Martinsville Speedway, Richmond International Raceway, Dover International Speedway and New Hampshire International Speedway, Darlington Raceway, the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway, and the road courses at Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

Teams will use the car in 26 events in 2008 and on the entire schedule in 2009.

See the March 2006 issue of Stock Car Racing for a story on the Car of Tomorrow.

And for more information on Toyota's entry into NASCAR, check out Jerry Boone's article: Toyota Headed to Nextel Cup