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NASCAR Retro! Remember the Muscle Car wars of the late 1960s and early 1970s? They're baaaack.

  Is Chevy afraid to put its Camaro on the track against this bad boy? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Let the Pony Car wars begin.
   Ford Mustangs, and Dodge Challengers, and.....
   Uh, didn't anyone over at Chevrolet get the memo? Where are the Camaros here this weekend: in the rental car lot?
   And maybe those big guys over at Toyota  ought to get with the program too. There's more to life than trucks and family sedans and hybrids that don't make a sound...
   Finally this week NASCAR is rolling out its Friday-Saturday Nationwide version of the controversial car-of-tomorrow, with all the major safety features drivers appreciate, but with handling characteristics that they complained about for so long with the Cup version.
   It's all about marketing, to be honest, of course. If it were only about safety – the car-of-tomorrow is the safest race car NASCAR has ever created – every stock car series would have been running them, not just Cup.
   This rollout has been delayed over a year, because of the intense economic issues facing this sport, most acutely on the Nationwide and Truck side.
   And those issues certainly haven't abated. James Finch, who has been fielding Nationwide teams for some 20 years, longer than just about anyone around, is struggling to survive, trying to sell his team, and conceding he's not had many takers.
   That's the backdrop to this thing.

  Roger Penske has some skin in this game too (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR).

   But what NASCAR and Detroit both hope for out of this NASCAR Pony Car thing is a new burst of energy for the sport.
   And for Detroit it's 'Brand identity.' One thing NASCAR has lost over the past few years is the once-intense support for individual car makers, when die-hard fans rooted as much for Ford or Chevy or Chrysler MoPars as for the drivers themselves.
   Maybe this will help the sport regain that.
    "I hope that's what happens," Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles says. "The drivers have taken quite a bit of limelight...and there's nothing wrong with that. They are great personalities, almost superstars, and it would be nice to get the cars get a little limelight again, and then start talking about branding."
    Branding, or not enough of it, is what General Motors execs are complaining about, and holding their new Camaro out of this competition.

    Gilles, who is really new to racing in general, has become a NASCAR aficionado during his short time at the helm of the now-Fiat-owned company. And that gives him perhaps a better perspective on all this than NASCAR veterans who sometimes can't see the forest for the trees.

   Time for Big Blue to turn this thing around. (Photo: NASCAR)

   "Over the years the cars have become somewhat of a template," Gilles says, in understatement, about NASCAR's common template rules, which have eliminated most brand identity except for decals and front grill openings.
   "So part of the experiment here...and it's obviously a public experiment -- we have four races this year and an entire season next year," Gilles says.
   "I have always said this to my friends at NASCAR: eventually the fans will tell us what to do.
    "I think the excitement will be very loud and clear. And then we'll have to see what happens."
    This season, after ramming rules and decisions and all sorts of upsetting changes down everyone's throats, from drivers to crew chiefs to fans, NASCAR is finally going back to basics.
   Boys, have at it.
   And, boy, have they been having at it.
   It's been rather delightful, and interesting to watch unfold.
   Still, the impact overall in the country has appeared rather muted. TV ratings are still down, crowds are still iffy.
   But then it may take a while to turn this ship around.
   And NASCAR this season has generally been making a lot of darned good calls.
   Now let's see what happens with this Pony Car thing.
   If NASCAR can aero-match these racers well enough, then maybe the next step would be to open things up even more. NASCAR went to common template bodies in reaction to constant complaints by one side or the other that someone had a better bumper or better roof or better something.
    Make 'em all the same, and no one can complain, is the thinking.

  One of NASCAR's newest fans: Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

But cookie cutter cars and cookie cutter tracks, well, maybe it's time for a change.
   And this Pony Car thing is a NASCAR natural. So Chevrolet and Toyota have to be under pressure to ante up too.
   And it's not just the impact on race fans that is at stake. The consumer impact of this 'experiment' is something Gilles says he'll be watching "very carefully."
   It's not just immediate sales necessarily. It's marketing impact.
   "We have created some new merchandising to go with Challenger, and we will see if sales pick up," Gilles says.
   "And then listen to our dealers, get some feedback.
    "It's a brand new thing in a way, so we are going to have to find new ways to measure it."

     Of course it is ironic – or maybe just a sidebar footnote – that the week NASCAR brings out its new stuff, electric car company Tesla is doing an IPO?
     Is America's taste in automobiles changing? Is this new Pony Car crazy just retro, or real?
    Well, Ford is making money, GM is running plants wide-open (a far cry from this time last summer)...and Tesla still hasn't turned a profit....

  Ford racing boss Jamie Allison (R), with Edsel Ford. Might they have uncovered some of Toyota's tricks at Loudon? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   On the techie side, the new race car is different in body and aerodynamics than the Nationwide car that's been the tour staple for so many years. And the chassis too, which is based on the current Cup car.
  That means a lot of new Nationwide cars will have to be built...and the old cars sold off to anyone that can use them, hopefully ARCA. Still, the old cars certainly won't fetch top-dollar.
   So economically this changeover is still questionable. The Nationwide series itself has become little more than a testing ground for top Cup operations the past few years, with Cup stars dominating, and with Nationwide stand-alone events tough to promote.
   The Pony Car concept for marketing this branch of the sport – more popular than even Indy-cars, to be sure – is a good one. But to make it work Chevrolet has to put its Camaro out on the line too, and GM officials – though they once prepared some test models for NASCAR, only to abruptly pull the plug for some reason – have steadfastly refused to reconsider their no-Camaro stance.
   NASCAR plans to run the new cars at only four tracks this season, Daytona, Michigan, Richmond, and Charlotte.
   The new model should be safer than the current model, but will this new version handle as awkwardly as those first Cup versions of the COT?
   It's taken several years for Cup drivers to accept the new car, and even now NASCAR is still tweaking it. The wing spoiler was cut earlier this year, and the venerable flat-blade reinstalled; and next the nose – that weird 'splitter,' which drivers have used at times as a razor blade to cut rivals' tires.
    How much of a change-up is the next Nationwide car?
   Not that much, really, considering NASCAR's history. But since NASCAR went to the common-template rules for race car bodies, it's been virtually impossible to tell the difference, in primer, between Fords and Chevys and Dodges and Toyotas.
   Can't say that about the new Nationwide Mustang and Charger.

  The new Roush NASCAR Mustang: prototype for Cup? (Photo: Autostock)


Maybe this will be the start of something new....

   Jamie Allison, who heads Ford's North American racing operations, hopes this is the start of something new. It hasn't been a great season for Ford in general, for whatever reasons.
   Friday's showdown here: looks like Carl Edwards, in a Roush Mustang, versus Brad Keselowski, in a Penske Challenger.....versus Chevy's Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, and Toyota's Kyle Busch.
   Then there's the curious entry of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a Richard Childress No. 3....Earnhardt being borrowed from the Rick Hendrick stables.
   It could be a good chance to look at some potential new stars, like Steve Arpin and Michael Annett...
   And will Carl Long really be back in a NASCAR stocker here, a year after that controversial $200,000 penalty and long suspension for an over-sized engine in a preliminary race to the annual All-Star feature? (Long, a journeyman stock car racer for years, with modest results, and a part-time job as spotter, became the poster child for an iron-fisted NASCAR system of 'justice' when it comes to the little guys in this sport.)
   Edwards says the new NASCAR Mustang "drives differently... but Daytona is a tough place to tell.  I think Michigan will be the real test (in the next run for this new car, in mid-August).
    "But right now it seems like the front-end grip is a little better, so that makes it looser. That's going to make for a wild race."
    Reed Sorenson: "We were here in May testing these cars, and I think it will be really interesting to see how they handle when we are all out there together. I think the field will be a lot more spread out during the race.
    "These cars draft well, running nose to tail. They're just a handful when another car is on either side of you; you lose a lot of rear grip."
    And will a Chevy Impala win this thing Friday night, and turn the Pony Car thing on its ear?
    Harvick hopes so. He's looking at the race as the start of something new: a chance to catch up with Joe Gibbs' Kyle Busch and Joey Logano on the Nationwide side; they run Toyotas.
   "They have been pretty dominant the last three years, and the rest of us have been playing catch-up," Harvick says. "I feel we have closed the gap...but now we have the opportunity to close the gap all at once.
   "This is our chance, to take advantage of the opportunity. Whether we do or not is yet to be seen, but it at least gives us an opportunity."
    Ah, now the political twists....
     In the sometimes seemingly byzantine world of NASCAR politics, how will all this play out? Allison points out his men and Gilles' "are going to have to compete with the two other cars that have basically remained unchanged."

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   Whoa! Just who is in that No. 3? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Nationwide COT

Nice to see that Ford and Dodge got the email.
I guess Toyota didn't have anything smaller than the Camry.
But, come on, Chevy! How about a Camaro. That would truely be a muscle car showdown.

GM Camaro should race

I saw one of the new yellow Camaros coming up behind me on the highway from about a mile away and as it went by, the beauty of the design could not fail to impress. I'd like to drive one of those babies, thought I. Anyway, GM should put the Camaro into Nationwide racing. The failure to do so demonstrates that GM management thinking is still old sometimes...the type of thinking that put the company into bankruptcy last year. Ford, on the other hand, the company that did not need a taxpayer bailout in 2009, is putting the Mustang into the field. GM should be highlighting the Camaro, not hiding it!

Phony Ponies

Sorry, but these things bear little resemblance to what's on the streets. Outside of the decals, they have the same problem as the Cup COT. They're all generic look alikes. The Mustang is a fastback with not much of a trunk. The Challenger has a stubby looking trunk. Neither of these are truly represented by the lastest clone car. They're Phony Ponies.

Now if they wrapped them in some stock sheet metal to make them resemble their street counterparts, I might be interested but they didn't. It's just another "one size fits all" attempt at controlling the racing. I don't blame Chevy for not going along with this with their Camaro. And of course, Toyota doesn't make a pony car of any sort so anything they would pass off as one would be as phony as these COT's are.

Wake me up when they have something that actually looks like the street versions.


If that's what they are calling a Mustang, and it is supposed to look like the real thing, then hell I must look like Tom Cruise.
Chevrolet was the smart one in all this nonsense, Nascar wanted to make an abortion out of the Camaro (just like the Mustang) and GM told them to jam it.
Nascar has Robin Pemberton spearheading this effort, maybe they should send him to a Ford dealer to look at real Mustang, this guy had no clue when he was a crew chief, nothing has changed.
Bob Kowal

Look I am glad they are

Look I am glad they are trying to make the cars look more like showroom to a degree!

But If I was Ford and Dodge to a degree I would not run them in Nascar period if they want to keep there image!!!

See Nascar is almost a division of General Motors, they get to dominate without penalty!!!!

As bad as Ford is running now yearly,getting beat weekly by "family car" the Impala instead of a Camaro will be something GM will boast, and it will hurt the image of the Mustang!

Although we know the cars have little in common with stock cars, if the image is what Ford and Dodge are after, unless they change bigtime in Nascar, the Mustang could comeout with the image of the Edsel!!!!!!!

i am curious why nascar let

i am curious why nascar let itself get caught in this box: if it wants to market nationwide as a 'pony car' series (which is a good move), why would it not insist on only 'pony cars,' no impalas or camrys? it's almost a lose-lose situation: if kevin harvick wins this 250 in an impala, or if kyle busch wins it in a camry, then hasn't this whole marketing campaign backfired?

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