NASCAR has long been known as the province of American iron. For half a century, Detroit's mantra was, "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday." These days, though, Detroit's difficulties have it pulling back from all expenses, including racing.

Now, for the first time, a hybrid-electric vehicle will be the pace car at a NASCAR event. It's even from an Asian automaker.

Yep, on Sunday, May 24, a 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid will serve as the pace car for the Coca-Cola 600, a NASCAR Sprint Cup race to be held at the Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. That's good ol' boy country for sure.

The Toyota Camry Hybrid is somewhat American, though. It's built at the Toyota manufacturing facility in Georgetown, Kentucky, and the US is by far its largest market.

Before being approved as the pace car for the upcoming race, the Camry Hybrid had to pass a NASCAR-mandated performance test. To qualify as a pace car at Lowe's Motor Speedway, the vehicle has to reach speeds close to 100 miles per hour from a standing start.

That's to allow it to move out ahead of the racers and slow them down in case of an accident. The pace car has to do this from its stand-by position near the exit of pit road, and be moving at 100 mph by the time it reaches the exit just a quarter-mile away.

The same car will also serve as the 'official' pace car at four other locations: Infineon Raceway on June 21, Chicagoland Speedway on July 11, Watkins Glen International on August 9, and Martinsville Speedway on October 25.

Toyota has been taking part in NASCAR since 2004, when it entered the Camping World Truck Series with its Tundra pickup. It expanded into competition with other cars in 2007, when it fielded Camrys in two NASCAR circuits, the Sprint Cup Series and the Nationwide Series.

The standard (non-NASCAR) 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid is powered by a 187-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder vehicle that gets an EPA estimated combined average of 33 miles per gallon.

Toyota Camry NASCAR pace car

Toyota Camry NASCAR pace car