In the golden era of NASCAR, when manufacturers hit the track, brand pride was on the line with every lap, every pit stop, and of course, every victory. For at least that week, one manufacturer could say they topped the field in the sport, and the fans began being drawn to that make for the next seven days. Once the next race began, the time came to reset.
There hasn’t been much of that in this era of NASCAR, even dating back to the 90’s and early 2000’s. When the Gen-5 car came into existence, the “Car of Tomorrow” didn’t resemble anything NASCAR ran in the past, much less something on the street.
When the new Gen-6 car debuted in 2013, it felt as though the new era of NASCAR had begun bringing back the old-school mentality of “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.” NASCAR had a good thing going, but it has once again felt like it has leveled off. No matter what is done, whether it’s new aerodynamics, stages, or anything to try and make the competition better, the fans aren’t buying into it.
In no way is the sport lacking in talent and competition. But the competition among the actual brands has felt as though it shifted away from what brought NASCAR to popularity: speed.
The cars of today, at least when it comes to make and model, are for the family. It’s no secret that families have been, and always will be, a key part of this sport. But NASCAR just doesn’t speak volumes when the cars they race in the top series are the family sedan. Seeing a Chevy SS, Ford Fusion, and Toyota Camry on track is more a feeling of racing to Walmart to get the early deals on groceries than a six-figure payout in racing.
Yet one manufacturer has already found a way to keep the family aspect in the sport, but also appealing to it’s past.
Already with a Camaro in the Xfinity Series, when Chevrolet unveiled their 2018 model Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for competition in Monster Energy Cup, it was the first step to possibly the other manufacturers deciding to get on board, and bring back the fast cars they all talk about producing from the factory.
Xfinity has the Camaro SS, and Ford has that series running the Mustang GT. Could this be an idea to start getting the big pony cars into the top level of racing?
From a manufacturer side it may mean taking more time in the wind tunnel to develop a new car to compete in the muscle car battle, and likely wouldn’t see track time until 2019. But, the idea of seeing the Camaro ZL1 competing alongside the Ford Shelby Gt350 Mustang is not that far fetched. These two have constantly battled on the track, both straight line and in circles, so this is an excellent opportunity to see it come back to the sport.
Not to mention this may be a way for Dodge to make an entrance back into NASCAR.
When the Dodge Challenger Demon debuted with a blistering 1/4-mile pass, one that immediately saw NHRA ban it from competition, no one should speculate that Dodge engineers had to figure there had to be another way to get the Demon on the track. Even if they can’t, the famed Hellcat could easily substitute.
All three manufacturers with their three powerful machines competing on the track is almost a new golden era of NASCAR, if Ford and Dodge decide to pursue it. It means having to create new templates for NASCAR to approve, and bodies to match the street counterparts. Then it means more time first in the wind tunnel at a small scale, then at a full scale to get the body exactly right. It also means somehow making more track time to test to ensure the car handles at the big speedways as well as the intermediate tracks.
It means a new set of templates from NASCAR as well at the speedways for inspection, and likely some teams going through what has been experienced already in failing for practice and/or qualifying before hitting the race track.
The decision isn’t so much from NASCAR to make the body change, but more the manufacturer itself. When Chevrolet went to the SS, deciding against the Impala when 2013 began, they expected sales of their rear-wheel drive sedan to be strong. It has proven otherwise, hence the production of the SS to stop. So it left Chevrolet with a dilemma since they now had to figure out the car that needed to be used for 2018, and do so in a short time frame.
Rather than bring the Impala back, the bow tie bunch went the other direction, opting to use their beloved muscle as the newest car to run NASCAR.
Only Toyota is on the outside of this muscle car war because there is no real “muscle car” coming from the foreign manufacturer. But, as has been seen this season, it hasn’t slowed them down by showing their true muscle on the track with their performance.
Where it really will be interesting is if Dodge decides to make it’s return to the track and bring it’s for of muscle with them.
Dodge is also in need of trying to sway teams to their brand from others, giving them an extra step in trying to return. Teams like Richard Petty Motorsports, who left Dodge at the end of 2009 to go with Ford, have a bit of an easier option because of knowing the product. But, these days alliances are critical, and Dodge would be going into the sport with no alliances to any team. If they signed on with one major operation, that team would also need to provide the cars, parts, and knowledge to the satellite teams in order for them to compete.
NASCAR needs something to bolster a sport that has been on the decline for at least a decade, and is losing fans and revenue just as quickly.
This may be the best way to get fans back in the stands, viewers back on television, and excitement back in the sport.
“Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” certainly needs a jolt of energy. Adding a bit of muscle could be the ticket to do so.