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Why NASCAR Uses The Camry, Mustang & Camaro

NASCAR vehicles are based on stock road cars, even if they looked quite different from their street-legal counterparts nowadays. With the Next-Gen car having made its debut in 2022, you may have noticed that NASCAR is using the Camry, Mustang, and Camaro models.

NASCAR uses the Camry, Mustang, and Camaro because these are the premier road car models of NASCAR’s 3 manufacturers: Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet. Ford runs the Mustang GT, Chevrolet runs the Camaro ZL1, and Toyota runs the Camry. They hope success on the track will lead to more car purchases.

These 3 car manufacturers and models are the only ones in NASCAR now, but many other companies have competed in the sport before. Below you will learn why Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota are the only 3 in NASCAR currently and why they choose to race the models that they do.

Why Are There Only Three Manufacturers In NASCAR?

There are only 3 manufacturers in NASCAR because Ford, Toyota, and Chevrolet are the only brands that are currently invested in competing in the highest level of stock car racing. Other manufacturers can pursue entry into the sport but need to prove they have the infrastructure to support it.

This last aspect is a crucial barrier. Many existing team owners have long relationships with their partner manufacturers. Jack Roush, co-owner of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, has fielded Fords since founding the team in 1988. Rick Hendrick owns many General Motors dealerships in addition to fielding Chevrolets in NASCAR. It would be hard to convince them to shift their longtime loyalties.

Example Of Shifting Loyalty

It is not impossible to shake an owner from their longstanding partnerships. Tony Stewart raced under the General Motors umbrella as a driver for all but 1 year of his nearly 2-decade career. He broke into ownership in 2009 as an owner-driver for Stewart Haas Racing and fielded Chevrolet until 2016.

Stewart and the SHR team made the unthinkable decision to switch from Chevrolet to Ford for the 2017 season. Many factors went into this decision, but Stewart and his management team decided Ford’s overtures were tough to pass up, regardless of any long-term brand loyalties. First and foremost, the team wanted to compete at a high level, and they believed Ford provided the best opportunity.

This could provide a template for new manufacturers looking to convince existing owners to consider moving in a new direction with them. One big difference is Ford already had a well-established foothold in NASCAR, whereas any new manufacturer would be starting its NASCAR infrastructure from scratch. But if a new company enters with a clear vision, history says a shocking switch could happen.

Former Manufacturers In NASCAR

Many other manufacturers have formerly raced in NASCAR. Dodge has come and gone multiple times, last competing in 2012 when it won the championship with Brad Keselowski and Team Penske. Pontiac was once a longtime NASCAR staple, fielding cars between 1957 and 2003. Pontiac scored 154 wins during its time in the NASCAR Cup Series but left the sport shortly before the entire brand was dissolved.

Other brands were popular in the early days of NASCAR when the term “stock cars” was truer than it is today. Now defunct manufacturers like Hudson, Oldsmobile, and Plymouth were successful at one point in their NASCAR history, all winning at least 1 Manufacturers’ Championship. Of course, the companies themselves must first be successful, which helps to explain their racing demise.

New Manufacturers?

NASCAR hopes its Next-Gen car will eventually attract new manufacturers to the sport. This could be possible because of the new car’s cheaper design and closer resemblance to the street models. Also, the Next Gen’s potential adaptability to an electric hybrid power system is believed to be an attractive option for new manufacturers.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps told the assembled media before the 2021 Daytona 500 that he believed new manufacturers were unlikely to join the sport before some sort of hybrid electric model was introduced, but that companies have had exploratory discussions about joining the sport. Dodge has been long rumored to be looking at re-joining the sport, although nothing has materialized yet.

Why Does NASCAR Use The Toyota Camry?

NASCAR uses the Toyota Camry because it’s the car that Toyota wants to showcase as a branding opportunity. NASCAR doesn’t tell the car makers what model they can use in the races, and so they leave it up to their car makers to decide what car gets showcased in the races.

Toyota competes with its Camry in the NASCAR Cup Series because the Camry is what the company wants to showcase in NASCAR’s premier series. Toyota has run the Camry since its NASCAR Cup Series debut in 2007, making it the longest-tenured model in the Cup Series.

Manufacturers have the autonomy to choose which models they want to race. NASCAR has regulations and an approval process each car maker must follow, but NASCAR leadership does not tell manufacturers what model they can use or not use. The cars are essentially a branding opportunity, so the decision lies with them.

The Next Gen Camry features the most life-like features to date compared to its production model. Paul Doleshal, group manager of motorsports and assets at Toyota Racing North America, spoke at the car’s unveiling in 2021, saying “we’re thrilled to have the chance to showcase the TRD Camry to represent Toyota,” adding it is “only fitting” for the model to be raced at NASCAR’s top level.

Why Does NASCAR Use The Ford Mustang?

NASCAR uses the Ford Mustang because that is Ford’s choice of what car they want to showcase as its most famous model in races. Ford formerly ran its Taurus model in the early 2000s before switching to its Fusion for many years. The Mustang made its Cup Series debut in 2019.

Regarding the decision to switch to the Mustang, Ford Performance Motorsports global director Mark Rushbrook said in 2018, “the Mustang is a perfect fit for our racing heritage today and tomorrow. Ford has previously used the Mustang in the Xfinity Series competition beginning in 2011 to fan acclaim, and it seemed only a matter of time before the Mustang elevated to the Cup Series.

Ford views the Mustang as its go-to racing vehicle, an idea solidified since the muscle car era of the 1960s. By 2020, Ford Performance had debuted Mustangs not only in NASCAR’s top two series, but in Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, the National Hot Rod Association Funny Car division, and Cobra Jet. The Mustang’s use in NASCAR was just the start of its increased use throughout racing.

Why Does NASCAR Use The Chevrolet Camaro?

NASCAR uses the Chevrolet Camaro because Chevrolet believes that their popular Camaro model is synonymous with speed. The Camaro replaced the Chevrolet SS before the 2018 Cup Series season. Lots went into this decision, but a primary factor was the retail popularity of each model.

The Camaro sold 24 times as many cars as the SS did in 2017 before this announcement. The SS ceased production in 2017, so Chevrolet needed a new model to base its Cup program around regardless. Chevrolet reached a verdict that there was every reason to use one of its most popular cars in NASCAR in hopes of continuing to capitalize on its popularity and run a nice-looking car to boot.

Final Thoughts

NASCAR uses the Camry, Mustang, and Camaro because those are the models that Toyota, Ford, and Chevrolet chose to race. They chose these models based on what would be the best branding opportunity for them and the vehicles that they aim to showcase to the broader public.