Pace car for Coca-Cola 600 a hybrid

CONCORD, N.C. -- Denny Hamlin glided a hybrid vehicle down the backstretch at Lowe's Motor Speedway at 110 mph, one hand on the steering wheel and his head turned toward his passenger.

"Pretty smooth ride, huh?" he grinned.

Smooth enough for NASCAR's standards.

A hybrid will be the official pace car for the first time in NASCAR when Toyota lends a Camry for use in next month's Coca-Cola 600. Hamlin offered rides around the speedway Tuesday in the car that will be used to demonstrate its performance capabilities.

"A couple times I found myself just puttering around there because it was so smooth," Hamlin said after almost an hour on the track. "You've almost got to force it to get out of shape."

The demonstration was done a day before Earth Day, which is celebrated Wednesday.

Toyota spent more than a year trying to get its Camry hybrid used as an official pace car, and final approval was contingent on a NASCAR performance test. The car had to hit 100 mph by the time it reached the second turn of Lowe's from a standby position near the pit road exit.

Hamlin estimated he ran laps in the pace car at an average of 105 mph.

The Camry, which will be given away in a promotion after the race, was built at Toyota's facility in Georgetown, Ky. It's a 187-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder vehicle that gets an EPA-estimated combined average of 33 miles per gallon.

Toyota also plans to use a hybrid Camry as the pace car later this year for races at Infineon Raceway, Chicagoland Speedway, Watkins Glen International and Martinsville Speedway.

NASCAR used a Ford Fusion hybrid for the parade laps before the start of last November's season-finale at Homestead, but it was replaced by a Ford Fusion Sport with an internal combustion engine for the rest of the race.