NASCAR Nationwide Series
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NNS: Pony Cars Welcomed
The Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger are ready to race...
Tom Jensen  |  Posted June 30, 2010   Charlotte, NC
Brad Keselowski tests the new generation NASCAR Nationwide Series car at Daytona in May. (Photo: Getty Images)
Jamie Allison, the man charged with running Ford Motor Co.’s auto racing operations in North America, has one word to describe the Ford Mustang coming to the NASCAR Nationwide Series: “Seismic.”

Ralph Gilles, Allison’s counterpart at Chrysler, feels pretty much the same way about the Dodge Challenger entering NNS competition.

“For us, it's a big deal,” said Gilles. “We like the fact that our customers are connecting. We are already seeing some very good noise, or I guess, feedback or excitement, so to speak on the social media side of things, so it's pretty cool. It's exciting.”

The Mustang and Challenger will make their respective debuts Friday night in the Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona International Speedway. It will be the first of four races this season for the new-generation NNS cars, which will be raced exclusively in 2011. Chevrolet will continue to race the Impala and Toyota the Camry, though both will be substantially modified in the new-generation car.

And someday, both the Challenger and Mustang might make their way to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“I think the Challenger, the look of the Challenger is part and parcel with what happens with the Sprint Cup series,” said Gilles. “It would be up to NASCAR, because that's another game altogether is to go to the Sunday race. We have to really change the rules there. So part of the experiment here; it's obviously a public experiment. We have four races this year and an entire season next year. I have always said this to my friends at NASCAR; that eventually the fans will kind of tell us what to do. I think the excitement will be very loud and clear, and then we'll have to see what happens.”

And not only are Dodge and Ford looking for their new cars to be successful, they are counting on them driving showroom traffic as well.
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“We have legions of fans who have followed the nine million Mustangs that have been born at Ford,” said Allison. “We have a lot of clubs, and so does Challenger. There's a lot of clubs out there. We have a total of around 40,000 club members that are a part of a specific club or another, and all of a sudden, they are rising up, affiliating with what we have done here, putting the car in NASCAR.”

Allison said Ford is paying key attention to public reaction to the Mustang.

“We will measure success in terms of affiliation,” he said. “We will measure success in terms of hand-raisers. We will measure success in terms of all of the social media chatter that we'll take on and all of the PR, so there's other levels of metrics that will rise up because of this occurrence, because the actual selling of being affiliated with the sport is already taking place through our other metrics.”

Gilles said that when Dodge first released a picture of the new car, it created a huge buzz among Mopar fans.

“One image that leaked out and went crazy on the Internet, a lot of it — especially the existing fans for Challenger really celebrated a lot. And there was a lot of debate and discussion about, is this really going to happen? They couldn't believe that Nationwide NASCAR would look this way. I think the conversation out there is fantastic to see what Ford and Dodge are doing out there; it's great.”

And Friday’s race at Daytona ought to be an interesting first step.

“It's always tough to talk about this kind of stuff, but I'm curious to see what happens,” said Gilles. “That's kind of why there's only four races (with the new car this year). We need to kind of see how everything plays out, and there will be a lot of discussion, a lot of post-race analysis to find out what's going on. So we really, really won't know until the end of (Friday) night. So we'll have to see what happens.”

Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEEDtv.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.

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