NASCAR 2013: Ford, Chevy and Dodge putting the ‘car’ back in NASCAR

2013 NASCAR Dodge Charger

Dodge’s 2013 NASCAR Charger represents a credible reminder of the sanctioning body’s stock car roots. Somewhere, Lee Petty is smiling…

In its infancy the rules of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing were beautifully simple: 1) Fill the tank with gas, 2) Empty the trunk of moonshine, and 3) Git yourself over to the starting line. No worry about carb restrictions, ‘cause no one in their right mind would want to restrict a carb. And sponsorship levels, back in the day, began at a bucket of fried chicken and (generally) went down from there.

Sixty years later there’s little remaining of the ‘old’ NASCAR save the acronym, and for many fans of the sport the disconnect with yesterday’s ‘run what ya’ brung’ and today’s ‘Tomorrow’ car is as distinct as the difference between Ann Romney’s Cadillac and George Romney’s Rambler. Given recent announcements from Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge, cars for the 2013 season will come closer to resembling their production counterparts, making NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow so-o-o-o-o yesterday.

The shift began in late January with the unveiling by Ford of the 2013 Cup Series Ford Fusion. Looking more than a little like the production Fusion shown earlier that month in Detroit, its overall appearance and profile were a revelation to those thousands ( or millions) less than happy with NASCAR’s current take on product differentiation. That differentiation consists of little more than a decal set on a uniform piece of ‘sheetmetal’. The Fusion’s Aston-esque grille was there (which will play extremely well in both Bristol and Birmingham), as was a greenhouse whose contour was closer to that of a production car and less like an indistinct piece of glass fiber.

“We wanted Fusion to be the car that helped return ‘stock car’ to NASCAR,” noted Jamie Allison, Ford’s Director of Racing. “I think fans, when they see the car, are just going to smile and cheer. It is going to reengage them with the sport and make the sport better because there is just something natural about seeing race cars that look like cars in their driveways.”

Ford also reminded fans that this was the third time the automaker had simultaneously launched both production and NASCAR versions of the same model. The first launch came in 1968 with the fastback Torino; more recent was the 2006 introduction of the then-new Fusion and its NASCAR counterpart.

Chevrolet would seem to be taking its NASCAR initiative one step closer to the real world environment. Team Chevy will be competing with a vehicle in 2013 using a new nameplate in the bow-tie lineup. And while nothing has been confirmed, speculation centers around its rear-wheel-drive Caprice, which – as this is written – is available only to police departments in the U.S. Attempts to clarify the communication at the Dallas Auto Show came up empty, but we did get a closer view of Chevy’s subcompact Spark. It looks to be the perfect crew shuttle on pit row.

Jim Campbell, Chevy’s vice president for Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, admitted that “fans are eager to see the new racecar and we hope that the prospect of being able to own one just like it will make the wait a little more bearable.” Of course, we’re talking 2013 – and no one is producing racecars “just like” their production counterparts. But Mr. Campbell’s verbiage is compelling – and the return of a RWD Caprice to civilian ranks (its platform is similar to that used for Pontiac’s G8 and Chevy’s Camaro) should prove even more compelling.

Not to be outdone (or overlooked) is Dodge, which announced (at roughly the same time as Chevy) their NASCAR plans for 2013. Using its rear-wheel drive Charger for inspiration, the 2013 Dodge entry fully embraces the look and profile of its production sport sedan/muscle car in the execution of its NASCAR entry. As Chrysler’s Ralph Gilles, president and CEO, SRT Brand and Motorsports, described it, “NASCAR provided the basic specifications, but offered encouragement to venture beyond the look of the current race car. Our design and engineering group…seized the opportunity.” The end result is unmistakably influenced by the new Charger, with front and rear fascias speaking ‘Dodge’ while the Charger’s side sculpting will serve as a visual frame for the anticipated advertising.

As this is written Toyota has yet to make public their 2013 plans. With NASCAR’s increased emphasis on a production profile and rear-wheel drive roots it may be time for Toyota’s new Lexus GS to join the ‘stock’ car fray. That, we think, would play at Infineon…