Auto companies are always bragging about winning this or that sales race, but there’s one win Toyota isn’t going to brag about.

The new year is going to be full of high profile races over who’s selling the most of this or that model, but there’s one new race that both participants would rather you didn’t pay attention to.

That’s the race between Toyota and the Chrysler Group over who’s the third largest auto maker in the U.S.

The issue came up last September when less than 2% market share separated Toyota and Chrysler. The margin has since widened in Chrysler’s favor, but Toyota’s sales momentum has led some industry analysts to predict that it will push Chrysler out of the number three spot sometime in 2002.

Chrysler Group president Dieter Zetsche told us recently that he didn’t think it would happen, but he added that he wouldn’t do anything stupid if it did, meaning no last-ditch efforts to boost sales.

Toyota officials downplay the situation even further, making it clear that while they want to sell as many cars and trucks as possible, they do not want to be viewed as taking advantage of Chrysler’s woes. So if Toyota does push Chrysler out of the number three spot, it won’t be bragging about it.