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Pony Cars for NASCAR Sprint Cup?
Next year will bring a host of important changes to the Sprint Cup Series, including a significantly revised schedule, new front ends for the race cars, the introduction of Sunoco Green E15 ethanol fuel and, at some point, fuel injection. But what lies further beyond next year is even more intriguing. With the next-generation Sprint Cup cars tentatively scheduled to roll out in 2013, there's a strong chance that Ford will move its Mustang up from the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the possibility that Chevrolet could dump its four-door Impala Sedan for the hot-selling Camaro. And a Mustang-Camaro rivalry could be just the thing to rev up NASCAR fan interest anew.

Today, the automakers and NASCAR are working closer than ever in trying to bring the audiences back to the tracks and the television sets. Brand identity, something the automakers felt was largely lost when the current Sprint Cup car was introduced in 2007, is a hot-button issue these days. And it's one reason NASCAR has gone back to traditional blade spoilers on the Cup cars and next year will eliminate ungainly cow-catcher front splitters in favor of a more aesthetically pleasing design. The automakers want even more brand identity, because they are trying to recapture the old "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" marketing focus that was predominant in prior generations.

In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, the newly introduced Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger, which were raced four times this season and will be raced full-time next year, already have proven hugely popular.

"The dealers are really excited about the Challenger running in NASCAR because it's something that (Dodge) sells," said NASCAR team owner Roger Penske, who also owns more than 300 automobile dealerships in 19 states. "These are high gross margin vehicles that they love to sell. When you start to look at Camaro and Mustang and Challenger, these are icons in the business."

Jamie Allison, director, Ford North American Motorsports, said point blank that the automaker wants to move the Mustang up to the Sprint Cup level, with one caveat: It has to look more like the production Mustang than the current Nationwide car does. "We like to see our iconic brand in all forms of motorsports," Allison said of the Mustang. " ... Any further consideration of the Mustang would have to be complemented and linked to more brand identity to the car that's raced. It can't just be the current car of tomorrow. It has to be a progression beyond what's in Nationwide."

Chevrolet's racing boss also wants more brand identity. "Chevrolet, in any series that we race in, we're looking for three things," said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet's general manager and the man who oversees the automaker's NASCAR operations. "First, we want to see technologies in the race cars that are applicable to what we do on the production side without driving a tremendous amount of cost. Secondly, we're (wanting) race series to use biofuels, because that's what we need to do going forward. Many of our (production) cars are ethanol-capable. And third, we want to see the cars that we race look like the cars that we sell, as close as we can." Campbell would not specifically comment on whether Chevrolet will return the Camaro to the NASCAR ranks, as Ford has with the Mustang in the Nationwide Series. "That's a ways off," Campbell said. "So any speculation about what's going to happen out there - I don't really have a lot to say on that today. ... We'll see what happens." Campbell did make it clear however, that he wanted NASCAR Sprint Cup Chevrolets to look a lot more like production-model Chevrolets. More from SPEED

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