To spice up interest from automakers in its second-tier Nationwide series, NASCAR has loosened its grip over its car's appearances ever so slightly, after years of pretending identical vehicles were different thanks to stickers. Next year, Chevrolet will replace the traditional Impala with this, a NASCAR-approved Chevy Camaro body. That's a real, uh, interesting take.
It's been decades since the cars that spun around a NASCAR track on Sunday had any remote mechanical resemblance to the cars dealers tried to sell fans on Monday, and as the sport's audience has stagnated in recent years, Detroit automakers have pressed for changes, questioning whether a racing event that put so much emphasis on driver personalities over vehicles was still worth the investment. The response from NASCAR has been to widen the style envelope a bit; next year's Sprint Cup cars from Ford will more closely resemble the Fusion, and Toyota's Camry entry will also pick up some stronger family cues.
By choosing a Camaro body, Chevy's following the picks made by Ford and Dodge to run a muscle-car themed entry, with Ford building Mustang bodies and Dodge using the Challenger name. By picking Camaro over the upcoming Impala, Chevy shows the limits of how far NASCAR's styling will go; the front end looks like a reasonable copy of a Camaro, right until the A-pillar where NASCAR rules won't allow changes in window size or angles, creating a half Camaro, half Monte Carlo look.
Despite what many auto enthusiasts might prefer, NASCAR's proven itself far better at drawing people to watch auto racing than any other circuit. If it means the Camaro can keep punching back against the Mustang, maybe a little ugly is OK.