Pony cars bring muscle to Nationwide Series
Apr 15, 2011 | 6981 views |  0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TALLADEGA — When he’s working his second job, Carl Edwards strolls into the garage and he can’t help but to smile.

The sloped nose and thin grill with a galloping horse right there in the middle. It’s just like he drives every other day of the week except for Sunday — the Ford Mustang. First introduced in the mid-60s, the model is an icon in the world of muscle cars with horsepower to burn and dripping with sex appeal.

Edwards’ second job is one of the many double dippers in NASCAR’s lower-tier system, the Nationwide Series where NASCAR has brought back a faster look to its already fast cars. With the season-opening weekend at Daytona, two automakers put the pony cars on the track full time with the Mustang and Dodge’s Challenger R/T.

“It’s really cool just to walk in the garage and see these hot rods sitting here,” Edwards said after Thursday’s practice for Saturday’s Aaron’s 312. “I think both the cars look great.”

In NASCAR’s world of racing — and especially when the Car of Tomorrow was first introduced — it was a template-driven sport. With equal aerodynamic standing a priority, the stickers at the front of the hoods were the best — and maybe only — way to identify an automaker if you didn’t already know where a driver’s loyalties lay.

But with this — which some pontificated to be an experiment for the top-tier series of Sprint Cup — it’s been a way to make the cars more identifiable with their kinship on the showroom floor. And brand recognition is big in a sport that relies so heavily on its sponsors.

“I think everybody likes it because it looks more like the street car,” said Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 22 Discount Tiger Dodge Challenger. “I like it, but it’s not whether I like it, it’s whether the fans like it.”

Once you get past the nose of the car, it’s tough to tell the difference. The taillights that sweep the full length of the rear of the Challenger are hard to ignore, but that is just a sticker, like many of the aesthetic looks of the two models.

And right now, it’s just the two models. Chevrolet is sticking with the Impala, just as Toyota is doing with its Camry.

“I don’t know why Toyota and Chevy didn’t bring kind of sporty car to the nationwide series,” Edwards said, “but I think they will. It’s too neat to ignore.”

But so far, ignore it they have.

Toyota’s position is hard because the automaker doesn’t really have a comparable version, discontinuing the Supra more than a decade ago. They also don’t have much reason to change what is working.

Kyle Busch has three wins in six races, giving the automaker more wins than anyone else. Also, brand recognition is hardly a problem as the Camry has been the best selling car in America for 13 of the past 14 years.

But Chevrolet, however, is in a different boat.

When Ford and Dodge made their announcements, many thought Chevrolet would follow suit with its Camaro, but that’s not been the case.

Chevrolet officials have said they didn’t feel like it was the right move to tamper with the integrity of the design that is so popular, and have stuck to their guns even with rumors swirling as the approval of the 2013 bodies have been in the news.

But for now, it’s up to the Nationwide to champion the cause on the backs of these ponies.

Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland
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