Saturday marked the halfway point of NASCAR's 36-race season, but Friday was the sport's real milestone. For the first time, Dodge and Ford did battle in vehicles that were supposed to resemble their factory counterparts, the Challenger and Mustang. The race may have been held in the Nationwide Series, but it was a 250-mile experiment for the big leagues as NASCAR toys with ideas for a next-generation car (what should we call it? CoT squared?), one that's rumored to hit the Cup level as early as 2013. That rollout is already considered a make-or-break moment, one that must address changes that reduce the dreaded "aero push" and keep the leader from having the luxury of sprinting away.
These Nationwide models also carry an important concept the Cup CoT missed: a design aimed to meet fans' approval. Obviously, a
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On to Friday night ... the majority opinion could be summed up as:
I have to agree with Matt on Dodge. It's hard to find any critics on the Challenger, despite taking up just five spots on the 43-car grid. No question, they take first prize for achieving this project's main goal: matching the racing model with what you see on the street. Judge for yourself below:
Now, compare that with the new Ford Mustang, that got a lot of flak from critics for looking too generic in comparison:
My take after seeing those pictures? I'm in the minority; while seeing the differences, I still love both Ford and Dodge. Sure, the sport could have allowed a little more creativity on the body style but the bottom line is when you see the cars race around, you can tell the difference between Ford, Chevy, Dodge and Toyota. That's the first time I can honestly say that in maybe the last 10 years.
Now, it's time to get Chevy and Toyota on board. It's completely irrelevant whether the new Impalas and Camrys look like their counterparts on the street -- because no one actually wants to see them raced on the track. The cars are also the same ones raced over on the Cup side, making it hard to recognize any differences -- yet they represented 31 of the 43 cars in the field. That's well over 70 percent! No wonder people are complaining NASCAR didn't go far enough.
A key component for 2011 is to get the rest of these manufacturers on board. Camaros should have been an automatic switch for GM, and if only Toyota could bring back the Celica ... a guy can dream, right?
Ryan, I get your point about Trans Am and making NASCAR look like amateurs with their professional, largely wreck-free event compared to the ugly bumper cars that happened on the stock car side at Road America. There's one important competitive difference, though:
I think the bigger point you make was shared by a majority of fans, that these changes weren't radical enough. My response is that right now, NASCAR's fighting a four-alarm fire with the equivalent of a bucket full of water and a Super Soaker. That's not going to work; with fans unleashing years of frustration or simply leaving in droves, incremental fixes just don't fly. Major design changes pose a big gamble, yes, but they also produce the type of attention-grabbing headlines you need to win the fans back.
So my final grade on the new cars? About a C+. It was initially rated a B, but you, the fans, have spoken. And in the end, your opinions are going to drive where this sport is headed going forward.
On to some Silly Season Qs...
Nick's talking about my
Beyond that, there's really not a whole lot of teams out there to poach right now. The big guys -- Gibbs, Hendrick, Childress - are locked into long-term manufacturer deals, leaving the Blue Oval more likely to contract and go with a smaller, more focused effort despite it's earlier expansion wishes. Hey, it's worked for Dodge; just take a look at how well
Man, Josh, I really don't know.
As for Edwards and Biffle ... I'm not so sure. Edwards has struggled on the intermediates that usually make up his bread and butter, and two laps led leaves him tied for 38th best in that category. He and Biffle have combined for just three top-5 finishes, while Martin alone has five. With the No. 5 car,
Cory makes some good points, and you're not the only one who thinks that, Wayne. The X Games champ has tested the waters a bit, accepting an invitation to participate in
"I like a lot of different types of cars and like every racer, I hope to do well," Pastrana said then, attributing 90 percent of his stock car knowledge to
Making a rookie mistake in the dirt race, Pastrana finished three laps down in 23rd after being penalized for passing under yellow, among other things. But he certainly left that experience feeling good about his run.
"I really like the restarts, where they put everyone close together -- I actually was able to start picking off some people," he explained. "The car was great. It took me a long time to get it figured out. I started out using high lines, low lines, until I finally found a groove that started working for me with about 20 laps to go. I definitely want to practice a little before I come back. But, definitely, this is really cool."
Is "cool" enough to force a commitment? I'm not so sure, especially since the future of Red Bull's NASCAR program is less in flux than you might think. They're not expanding to three cars next year, and I expect
At the same time, he's watching closely as rival
"Back from the pool, I'm pretty sure I was the best looking guy there. Everyone was staring, could have also been the leopard thong? Not sure."