Those of us who remember when stock-car racing actually involved competition among drivers in real stock, mass-produced-and-later modified-for-racing stock cars, were skeptical about the new push for NASCAR machines that bore a greater resemblance to factory models.
Most of the skeptics remain unimpressed, as the racecars are still going to be purpose-built vehicles that have almost nothing in common with the production models whose names they will share.
But the more this skeptic sees of the 2013 NASCAR machines, the more convinced he is that the automakers and NASCAR might have made some progress.
Side-by-side comparisons of street and racing models of the Ford, Dodge and Toyota machines have been particularly convincing. There’s a difference in these new racecars when contrasted with their predecessors, the spec-body “Car of Tomorrow” models that relied on decals and some shaping of side windows to affect the look of Impala, Charger, Fusion and Camry sedans. The noses look like the real thing. The sides have some of the same sculpting.
And even though all the production cars are four-door sedans and all the racecars have been altered to feature greenhouses with the characteristics of two-door sport coupes, there’s some identity present in their appearance.
The new Camry seems to least resemble its “civilian” counterpart. The street Camry is much more of a humpbacked four-door in silhouette than the NASCAR model.
The 2013 Fusion has a more streamlined profile than the Camry, and so the look transfers more convincingly to the racecar. The shape of the side windows is very similar from the Dearborn model to the Charlotte one, with only a relocation of the B pillar to provide the larger window opening (and, therefore, better driver egress and ingress).
There’s been no side-by-side photo op for the new Chevrolet. The Impala is out, and the new SS is sort of a prototype for the production car, which has not yet been built. But we’d hope that Chevrolet makes a street model that looks as good as the NASCAR model that debuted in Las Vegas last month.
Sadly, the one that looks the most like its street counterpart, the 2013 Dodge Charger, will likely never see action, as Dodge announced its withdrawal from NASCAR racing not long after it revealed its new racecar.
That’s a loss for the sport, especially with Brad Keselowski and Penske Racing capturing the 2012 Sprint Cup championship title for the lame-duck marque.
Dodge will miss out on a watershed moment for the sport. This will be more than the 2006 introduction of the Car of Tomorrow, more in line with the move in 1981 from full-size models to intermediates – from 115-inch wheelbases, 430-cubic-inch V8s and 3,900 pounds to 110-inch wheelbases, 358-cubic-inch engines and 3,400 pounds.
That change was brought about to keep NASCAR machines in synch with what most American motorists were buying from new car dealers. Smaller cars had replaced full-sized ones as the most popular models.
NASCAR racing has always been based on spectator identification — a perceived relationship between the racecars and the vehicles in driveways and on the highways.
A similar motivation has driven the move to build the 2013 NASCAR machines.
Final verdicts will be withheld until we see the new cars on the track in actual competition. Shakedown runs in Daytona prior to Speedweeks and early practice and qualifying will give some indicators.
But not until we see them in the heat of competition will we know for sure just how much we like them.
It won’t be all about looks. Looks are important, but even more important will be how much progress has been made to address the problems wrought by aerodynamics and their effect on how the drivers are able to race against each other.
A little more than two months from now, it will be showtime.