Supra era begins with Saturday's Xfinity race

Image by Thacker/LAT

Supra era begins with Saturday's Xfinity race

NASCAR

Supra era begins with Saturday's Xfinity race

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Toyota executives will watch its Supra model take to a NASCAR track for the first time today when the green flag drops over the 2019 Xfinity Series field.

It is Day 1 of what will become a familiar sight for the NASCAR community. And its impact should be felt quickly, with drivers like Christopher Bell and Brandon Jones piloting the model all season long, and with appearances by the likes of Kyle Busch and Jeffrey Earnhardt sprinkled in. In the Daytona season opener (2:30 p.m. ET, FS1) there will be three factory-supported Supra teams in competition with Bell, Jones, and Earnhardt.

David Wilson, president of TRD, hopes a simple message comes to mind with every glimpse of the Toyota Supra.

“We’re back,” Wilson told RACER. “Supra is back.”

Image by Thacker/LAT

The debut of the race car precedes its production counterpart, which is being released next month. With the delay, it gives Wilson and company the opportunity to tease the launch through a racing platform. But whether it’s a race car or a street car, he’s already gotten an idea of how excited the public is about the model.

“I’m driving out of the Hertz rental center in Orlando (earlier this week), and the guy who checks your ID and VIN number — and somewhere on my profile it must show that I work for Toyota — he’s like, ‘Thank you Mr. Wilson for bringing Supra back,’” Wilson laughed, marveling at a 20-something guy “fired up about Supra coming back.”

“I’m like, thanks for saying that, that’s why we’re bringing it back. Because we have such loyal sports car enthusiasts.”

With the Supra, the manufacturer now has, for the first time ever, three distinct models across the NASCAR garage: Camry in Cup, Supra in Xfinity, and the Tundra in Trucks. Meaning Wilson and Toyota can talk even more about cars.

Image by Levitt/LAT

But why the Supra in NASCAR? According to Wilson, of all the sports cars that Toyota has produced, the Supra stands above all in terms of brand power and popularity.

“The Supra’s kind of badass,” he said. “So, I think it makes a lot of sense to say, you know what, let’s take this into NASCAR.”

The design and development of the car was a collective effort between TRD and Calty Design Research. Although manufacturers are kept within the confines of NASCAR specifications, Wilson said the two sides (Calty and TRD) have become “really good” at incorporating as much of the production style of their vehicles into the race car, and there should be no denying the essence of the Supra is seen in its nose.

“We’ve been very successful at carrying over the true character of all the cars and trucks while at the same time preserving the competitiveness that we as racers hope to achieve every time we bring a new car to the racetrack,” said Wilson. “We race in order to help our company sell more cars and trucks, and so it is absolutely critical that what we race is true to the production variant.

“But again, the good news is that because we have such a good partnership with our design studio, they’re very supportive of our other mission, which is winning races.”

Time will tell if the Supra is as good or better than the Camry. The Camry model ran from 2007-18 and went to Victory Lane 149 times, won Xfinity Series two driver championships (Kyle Busch in 2009, Daniel Suarez 2016) and four manufacturers championships (2008, ’09, ’10, and ’16).

“Anytime we have the opportunity to bring a new car … we try to take every advantage of that opportunity,” said Wilson. “The reality though is we’re still ultimately limited in what we can do, and more so in Xfinity, just by the rules. Practically speaking, the Supra is not going to be markedly different or better. It’s going to be, we hope, competitive and as competitive or more competitive than what we’ve been racing.”

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