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Ford shows off its radically new 2013 NASCAR stocker, and rivals are checking it out closely

  The street version of Ford's soon-to-be Sprint Cup stocker (Photo: Autostock)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Ford's certainly got it here, and the Blue Oval guys are definitely flaunting it.
   Their 2013 NASCAR stocker, on display in the infield. And it's a stunner, particularly when placed side-by-side with the current model.

   Ford is first to the grid with its version. So rivals are carefully examining the new race car, which is light-years different from the current common-template racer. Dodge is to unveil its 2013 at Las Vegas in three weeks, but Toyota and Chevrolet execs only shrug their shoulders when asked about their 2013s.
   In fact the 2013 is so radically different from the 2012s that it may take a while to get your head around the 'new' NASCAR philosophy here. If the key phrase is 'Let Detroit be Detroit' in race car design, then this first look lives up to the slogan.
   The 2013 looks more like a 24 Hours European sports car, with body tricks on virtually every part. (Well, yes, it looks remarkably like an Aston Martin DB7 or DB9.)
   The current Sprint Cup car has virtually every area of the body strictly defined (as NASCAR showed in the Chad Knaus incident a few days ago).
   But car makers have been given remarkable leeway with the 2013 body.
   Enough to make you wonder where's the marketing and promotion behind this whole project…and what's the time table.
   And to question why in the world NASCAR can't get these new stockers out on the track for real sometime this season in a real race.

    And these are the on-track versions of Ford's 2013 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   This 2013 is the precise version, Ford's Pat DiMarco, the NASCAR program manager, says, that Ford will be officially submitting to NASCAR. Sept. 1st is NASCAR's traditional submission cutoff date, but Mike Fisher, head of NASCAR's R&D shop in Concord, N.C., says he hopes the four car makers are well in front of that date.
   The NASCAR 2013 program has been in development just over a year now. During SpeedWeeks last season the four NASCAR manufacturers told the sanctioning body they wanted a lot more brand identity in these race cars, to make them more "relevant," which is a key word in this sport this year.
   "We got the message loud and clear," Fisher says.
   Fisher is the engineer in charge of baby-sitting this project. Detroit designers get to do their thing with these new cars, and it's up to Fisher to keep some of the key points aligned (like roof height and body width) and to try to keep the four on a level playing field.
   The first on-track test for all four car makers was three weeks ago at Homestead-Miami, and the results were mixed, though Fisher insists the other three car makers already have 2013s "just as developed as this one….just with different marketing plans."
   Chevrolet, for example, is apparently playing with the idea of racing one of its 2014 street models in 2013, which may be why it's dragging its feet.
   Why Toyota is being so circumspect about its 2013 NASCAR is unclear too. (Curiously since Toyota has exclusivity at both Charlotte and Daytona this year, under NASCAR contracts, Ford had to get Toyota's permission to show off its new car at the two tracks.)
   The first test, Fisher says "was confirmation the cars were drivable and had a lot of the same driving characteristics as we have today, which we didn't want to mess up."
   While the 2013 is on the same race chassis as currently used, the new car body's nose has been moved forward two inches and the rear end is four inches shorter.
   The next test? That hasn't been planned yet.
   Adding so many street car design character lines to these race cars is a dramatic departure for NASCAR, which currently limits Detroit tweaks to two areas: the middle of the front bumper to the middle of the hood, and the outline of the rear quarter windows. "That's pretty much the extent of the identity of the individual OEM cars," Fisher says.
    But with the 2013 car, that 'common template' concept is being turned on its head: "There are still a few common areas, but we've definitely opened areas on the car for the manufacturers to work on," he says.
   The new common areas will be much more limited.
   A significant area for Detroit to work in is the greenhouse, decidedly different. The manufacturers wanted a 'racier' windshield, and the rake on the 2013 is noticeably more pronounced, and the base of the windshield has been pulled forward nearly five inches.
   Another area, the entire front bumper, except for a two-inch band at the bottom, near the race track.
   Yet another area, the sides of these cars, and the changes allowed Fisher says "are pretty much unprecedented."
   The roof is different too.
   And he adds, almost with dry wit: "There will be a spoiler on the back that will be common."
   There is a sense that in this 2013 project NASCAR gave the ball to Detroit, with just a few rules to follow, and the general idea of letting the four car makers police each other.
   Of course one obvious technical question, given the seemingly much improved downforce, is now in Goodyear's hands. More downforce could present Goodyear engineers with the need for tougher tires.
   The drag coefficients for the 2013 "are very similar to the current car," DiMarco says.
  And Fisher says the downforce has not changed much either, out of concern for Goodyear.
  But then if given such free rein in designing a new racer, it stands to reason that as much downforce as possible would be designed in.
  And considering the rule of physics that two cars hooked tightly are faster than one along, and two cars are also faster than the big pack, one aspect to look for in the new car is how well two of them might match up in tandem drafting.
   But the 2013 Ford – and not knowing what the other three 2013s may look like – has a much rounder front bumper, which may make two-car drafting more difficult.
   Larry McReynolds, a future Hall of Fame crew chief for his work with Ford's Davey Allison, Ernie Irvan and Dale Jarrett, and then Chevrolet's Dale Earnhardt, looks at the 2013 and whistles:
   "This should give those fans wearing those Fords caps and the Chevy caps something to light the fires again. I remember when I went over to work with Dale Earnhardt, the Ford fans were spitting at me….because I was going over to Chevrolet. We don't have that today.
   "So this should be good.
   "We've just got to get Chevrolet to name their 2013 something other than Impala. I'm okay with 'Fusion;' but when I think about the Impala – not that there's anything wrong with what my grandparents drive, but….."


    Ford's new 2013s, with Ricky Stenhouse and Greg Biffle (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)





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