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Toyota a rising power in NASCAR

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A few years ago, Toyota, which had long been firmly established as a powerhouse in the consumer vehicle market, decided to try its hand at NASCAR, an archetypal American phenomenon that had been dominated by American automotive brands.
Ostensibly, the move came with the objective of further establishing the brand’s standing among U.S. consumers, perhaps even reaching some who had never really considered the Japanese brand when it came to thinking motorsports, much less buying a car.
Well, fast forward 10 years, and Toyota has done in NASCAR exactly what it’s done in the U.S. auto market – posting impressive success and making people forget that the company at one point didn’t have a presence in the field.
Toyota started small in NASCAR in 2004, entering the World Camping Truck Series, the lowest among the levels of top NASCAR competition.
“They started small and worked to make themselves a part of the NASCAR community,” said Michael Waltrip, who co-owns a racing team that works with Toyota. “I think that helped them grow into the sport and gain respect from people.” Waltrip spoke briefly to a group of journalists before the recent NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In 2007, Toyota decided it was time to take a stab at the Nationwide and Sprint Cup competitions.
Again, the company chose a gradual approach.
In addition to partnering with Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota also aligned with Red Bull Racing and Bill Davis Racing.
Those early small steps have spawned success today, with Toyota being involved with two accomplished Sprint Cup teams: Michael Waltrip Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.
And although Toyota is yet to win a Sprint Cup championship, it’s won 90 Nationwide races, 64 Sprint Cup races, a driver’s title in 2009 with Kyle Busch and three second-place finishes in the Chase. Toyota also has racked up six championships and 114 races in the truck category.
Not bad for a company that’s only been playing in the space for 10 years. Compare that with more than 60 years for Ford and almost that long for Chevrolet.
Though it might be hard to quantify what getting involved with NASCAR has meant to Toyota’s bottom line, it’s probably safe to say that it hasn’t hurt.
Toyota is committed to being a great global brand, said Brent Dewar, chief operating officer of NASCAR. “NASCAR is broadcast in more than 100 countries. We have a series in Mexico, and Toyota is our partner,” Dewar told the Associated Press recently. “They have been a tremendous partner for us as we seek to increase our fan appeal.”
Certainly, Toyota wants to increase its fan appeal.
In recent years, it reached the top of the global sales chart, where it stayed briefly.
Then a series of brand-damaging recalls struck the company, along with lawsuits and penalties and increased scrutiny from regulators.
Undaunted, the company has vowed that it has changed its manufacturing procedures and redoubled its commitment to making safe, reliable vehicles.
As such, part of its brand and image building (and rebuilding) has come from its work with its Toyota Racing Development arm and NASCAR.
Officials with the company said that through its engineering work on motorsports vehicles, it can make technological advances that can bolster the safety of its consumer vehicles.
And, as part of its effort to weave itself into the fabric of the communities it serves, Toyota has undertaken projects such as the Hiring Our Heroes program, which aims to help military veterans land employment.
The company also has greatly expanded its U.S. vehicle production, a fact it is quick to point out to shoppers in its dealerships or fans attending its NASCAR events. At the race in Charlotte, the Toyota-sponsored section outside the speedway featured a gigantic chart that listed each Toyota U.S.-manufacturing facility and the vehicle that it produces.
After years of successfully competing for auto buyers’ dollars, Toyota has also shown that it can compete on oval tracks with fast vehicles, and it appears to be committed to doing so for a long time to come.

SEE KYLE BUSCH FEATURED ON "FROM INSIDE THE NASCAR GARAGE"

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