A Ford Mustang in NASCAR in 2009? Maybe: A source at Ford Motor Company says the motorsports division expects the Ford Mustang to replace the Fusion in the NASCAR Busch [Nationwide Series in 2008] series. "We're expecting to run the Mustang in 2009," the source said. It's the first confirmation from a manufacturer what I [Cole] first reported in early 2006 - that the cars in the NASCAR Busch series, which will be called the Nationwide series in 2008 and beyond - may soon be substantially different from the cars in the top-tier Nextel Cup series. NASCAR is expected to require the Busch cars to be built to a safety specification similar to the Nextel Cup "Car of Tomorrow," which becomes the standard car at the Daytona 500 in February. If a makeover will be required anyway for the 2009 season, logic suggests that would be a good time for a nameplate change, as well.
That said, it may not be a done deal. Reportedly Chevrolet is balking at running the Camaro in the NASCAR series. Rumors suggest that Dodge is considering a Busch series version of the Challenger, which just went on sale at a price of under $38,000, for delivery in 2008. Dodge will build 5,000 Challengers in 2008, and expects to increase that number by sevenfold for 2009. Sales expectations for the Chevrolet Camaro are higher. With the discontinuation of the Monte Carlo, Chevrolet has no sports coupe aside from the Corvette and the small Cobalt SS, and won't until the Camaro is introduced. The Corvette will continue to race in the American Le Mans and Grand-Am series, though one contingent within General Motors is pressing for a body change for the ALMS GT1 class, where GM's two factory Corvettes literally have no competition: They'd like to see those Corvettes rebodied as Camaros to help launch that model, which won't hit the market until well after the Challenger.
Also, the move to "pony car" coupes could cause a problem for Toyota. The Camry Solara, a two-door sedan version of the top-selling car in the United States, may disappear after the 2008 model year. Sales are dismal; Toyota is expected to build only about 30,000 Solaras this year, compared to about 400,000 Camry sedans. One possibility at Toyota: Automotive News says that the company is expected to introduce a new Celica sports coupe in Europe in 2009. If that car comes here, it could be raced in NASCAR. The discontinued Celica made some appearances in the now-defunct NASCAR Dash series. If the move to the Mustang, et al, is to be made for 2009, that announcement would be expected soon after the first of next year.