NASCAR looking at new Cup car for 2013

NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series could take on a different look as early as 2013.

While some manufacturers are considering model changes by then, all car makers are looking to maximize brand identity on the racetrack.

That concept is equally appealing to race fans who feel the sanctioning body has veered far from the notion of a “stock” car.

John Darby, Sprint Cup Series director, says the direction would “be real similar” to the style the Nationwide cars are adopting for next season.

“The point we’re at right now is trying to get feedback from all four manufacturers,” Darby said. “The fact that, No. 1, that ’13 is the right year to this as it aligns with new models, and secondly that there’s interest from all four makes.

“We had really positive feedback when we released the new Nationwide cars this year. The fact that undeniably, the Dodge Challenger and the Ford Mustang are really good-looking race cars. We’re not talking about a new race car. We’re talking about body modifications and making model changes that will help the identity and the look of the cars. It’s all from an appearance format, not to change the race car itself.”

As NASCAR has worked over the past decade to make the cars safer and establish uniformity from an aerodynamic standpoint, the bodies are not nearly as sexy as the sleek hot rods fans admired on the racetrack. In March 2007, the Car of Tomorrow debuted at Bristol Motor Speedway. Winner Kyle Busch echoed the sentiment in the stands regarding the car, “They suck.”

However, no one can argue with the safety benefits of the current car, which has been heralded by competitors and fans alike. With the integrity of the cars intact, it’s time to retool the bodies.

“The cycle that we’ve been in — which started actually back in the ’90s — of focusing on aerodynamic parity we’ve now been able to take to the next level of what matters and what doesn’t,” Darby said.

“The fact is there’s a lot of design features and sculpturing and things that you can put into cars that aren’t aerodynamically sensitive enough to worry about. That’s where we’re headed now is really allowing the manufacturers to focus on those spots to bring out all the identity they can because that’s the value to the manufacturers.

“As we were going through all our aerodynamic challenges, the manufacturers fell into that stagnant period where all the cars looked the same in the showroom, too. There’s been a trend now to where manufacturers are working really hard on new models that don’t look like everyone else’s. I think that’s evident in what’s starting to enter the showroom today and will be evident over the next few years. We’ll do everything we can to help them with the process.”

Of course costs will be taken into the equation. Changes have to make economic sense to the teams as well, since the modifications would involve more than just a cosmetic tweak to noses and tails. NASCAR eliminated the rear wings earlier this year and implemented a nose job for the front ends for 2011, which replaces the awkward braces that attach the splitters to one sleek piece.

Once the manufacturers agree on the concepts, Darby would expect to see designs submitted in August 2012.

“As it says in the rule book, it all has to start with a July 1 date for any type of a body change on the car,” Darby said. “Typically, and up to this point we’ve entertained and helped manufacturers with the front fascias, the rear tails. The ’13 project could be a little larger than that to where we get more character lines in the hoods, more sculpture if you will to help the manufacturers identify their products a little closer.”