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NASCAR Hoping To Add Street Value To Cup

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, August 3 2012

The 2013 Camaro Nationwide car was unveiled in Indianapolis last weekend. The object is to look more like a street car. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

News that the 2013 Sprint Cup cars will more closely resemble street machinery is, well, news. Just news. Neutral news. Certainly not bad news and, in fact, a step in a happy direction. But, it is not great news for those who are waiting for a savior.

Time was, kids, the cars which raced at places Daytona, Martinsville and Darlington, were actual cars. Seriously.

At one time, yes, completely stock with, perhaps, a length of rope added to hold the driver in place when the Mercury he had bought at the dealership a couple of days before hit the ruddy banking at Richmond.

In those days, when a fan rooted for Chevrolet because that was what he had in his driveway, it was because that was what he had in his driveway.

Then, in the evolving quest for speed and the paydays which come with that, the stock cars were modded. And then, rather suddenly, they became the opposite of stock. They became purpose-built machines which were a lot more closely related to IndyCars than they were to the showroom products which were their namesakes.

Fans either accepted that, chose to ignore it or were not really cognizant to the extent of it.

And the cognizance aspect of that statement is in no way meant to be demeaning. In the 1980s, a couple of we IndyCar zealots went to a car show in Denver. A Winston Cup show car was on display. The first one which we had opportunity to examine.

After poking heads in the window and under the bonnet, er, hood all – again, car and racing guys since
childhood days of the 1950s and ’60s – just looked at each other and blinked. It indeed featured a pushrod V-8

Brad Keselowski in the Nationwide Challenger. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

fitted with a Holley four-barrel on a high-rise Edelbrock intake manifold, but after that…a stock car? Seriously?

They sure looked stock on television and people around that sport sure talked like they were stock and they did feature blue ovals and bowties in the right places but…a stock car? Seriously?

The next epiphany vis a vis NASCAR stock car racing came years after I started covering more NASCAR than IndyCar and NHRA. It was on the annual January Charlotte Media Tour. Ray Evernham’s first full-blown year as a team owner.

A big curtain was stretched across a portion of the race shop. Evernham stepped in front of the media corps, which at that time was pretty substantial, and said, kind of, meet my team. Out from behind the curtain paraded a long line of engineers. Like 20 of them. All in pressed white sport shorts and dress slacks. Most were young and well-groomed. None had grease under the fingernails.

Of course, well before that day, I knew what a rolling-plane windtunnel was. I had interviewed flow-dynamics enginners and was well aware that laptops were sharing bench space with torque wrenches in the shops.

But since that day, taking a deep breath precedes using the term stock car vis a vis NASCAR racing machinery.

Fans, of course – the fans who grew up around the sport and who based some of their rooting interests around car-maker loyalty – have long been seeing through decals and faux fenders and tube frames.

Some have shrugged and said whatever. They accepted it as evolution and progress and a minor price to pay to get the still-wonderful speed and noise and competition fix.

Others have drifted away, unsure of exactly what they were watching but knowing full well those were not the Impala SSs they used to hand wax under the tree near their driveway.

The car companies themselves have been forced into corners by the rush toward purpose-builds. Potential street-

David Pearson in a stock car. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

car customers were not fooled by the logos and decals, but some tattered vestiges of brand-loyalty were adhering to the product. The folks in Michigan and Japan clearly felt that participating in NASCAR was beneficial to sales figures but, at what economic cost to the bottom line?

Rumors still fly from time to time about one or more of the car-makers pulling out of NASCAR as they internally debate if the millions they are pouring into the sport is being recouped by millions in sport-related sales.

At any rate, the Brylcreem is out of the tube. NASCAR is never going back to showroom vehicles. I remember asking Toyota Racing Development boss Lee White a couple of years ago if he favored moves in that direction. He said that people who want to watch actual cars being raced already have an outlet for that. “It’s called GRAND-AM,” he said.

But the sport does realize that it must reconnect with fans. That it is essential to re-establish some form of brand loyalty in NASCAR racing.

Positive news flowed out of the series a couple years ago when Ford redesigned its Nationwide Series cars to look more like actual Mustangs. Dodge followed suit with Challenger. Fans loved it.

Then, in the wake of that, all the makers began spreading the word that 2013 cars would lean heavily toward street-car appearance. Well, as much as aero considerations would allow.

Then, this week, word that NASCAR had approved designs for those 2013 cars, designs aided – as all designs in NASCAR are these days – by the series itself.

“We commend the manufacturers and our team at the R&D center on all the hard work they’ve put into this new car,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “With all the designs and surface areas of the car now approved, manufacturers can now move forward with building the components needed to outfit their cars. The wind tunnel testing we’ve had with the manufacturers over the past several months has given us the timely and necessary data we needed to come to this confirmation. We believe the new car is going to be a milestone opportunity for our sport, one that our fans will embrace.”

Well, there is embracing your grandmother and then there is embracing Salma Hayek.

The guess here is that NASCAR fans will give the new cars a Flo the insurance lady hug. The belief here is you probably should be able to wait a couple more weeks to order your 2013 Brickyard tickets without fear of being shut out.

It’s a positive move by the sport, but, as with some other recent moves to re-activate NASCAR, not a move in and of itself that will push the plunger on the powder keg of interest.

NASCAR will have to evolve its way back to mass popularity and that will not happen with the speed at which de-evolution put the sport in its current predicament.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, August 3 2012
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