By Nate Ryan, USA TODAY
More than two years on the drawing board and countless hours in the wind tunnel came to fruition Monday when NASCAR approved a next-generation Sprint Cup car for 2013.
But the work is just beginning for the series' four manufacturers and the sanctioning body.
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Toyota likely will be busier making customized parts and pieces to distribute to teams than at any point in the last three decades because the new car is such a departure from the more generic version that NASCAR has used for the past decade.
"The list of parts now probably will be unmatched," Pemberton told USA TODAY Sports. "Each manufacturer is going to build its own doors, fenders, hoods and fronts. The roofs are individually different, and the windshields aren't the same. Every bit of the surface is unique to the manufacturer moving forward. You'd have to go back to the early '80s as far as so much stuff being made by manufacturers."
While enhancing safety over the past decade, NASCAR moved toward standardized models in which brand identity became virtually nonexistent beyond the bumper logos.
With manufacturers and fans clamoring for cars more relatable to showroom models, NASCAR introduced new Nationwide Series cars in 2010 that were hailed for having more relevance. Chevrolet announced last weekend that it will race the Camaro in Nationwide, turning it into a de-facto muscle-car class with Ford's Mustang and Dodge's Challenger.
The Cup circuit will feature the same sedan-style bodies as before with Chevrolet's SS, Ford's Fusion, Dodge's Charger and Toyota's Camry. But the switch will come with some familiar headaches for NASCAR.
Because the sport's core philosophy is parity, NASCAR is trying to ensure no manufacturer heads into the 2013 Daytona 500 with a significant aerodynamic advantage that improves performance.
That goal was much easier to achieve when the cars were standardized.
Pemberton conceded it would be more difficult to police when the cars are so unique, and it could trigger the return of teams and manufacturers complaining and lobbying for help, once was a weekly occurrence in the mid- to late-1990s when the cars weren't so alike.
"Fans and manufacturers will hone in on the visible parts of these cars," he said. "At times, they'll think someone else has a significant advantage. It'll be a lot more work by our officials, but we know to bring this product to the track will be well worth it."
Pemberton said the 2013 debut would be monumental in NASCAR history because the new cars were a "radical departure" in both their designs and the collaboration that produced them. NASCAR worked with engineers from both the racing and production divisions of each of the automakers.
"We've never seen such levels of involvement from the manufacturers," Pemberton said. "There were guys working overtime on the race cars the past two years because their supervisors allowed them time off from cars that hadn't hit the showroom yet.
"If you look at the designs of the manufacturers now, they're breaking new ground all the time. If they're going to that extent to attract new buyers, it makes sense that what we put on the track is equally important to represent what they sell. The Nationwide car was Step 1, this is taking that step a lot further. The final product is head and shoulders of where we've been last few years."
Cup teams will have the 2013 model for an Aug. 7-8 test at Martinsville Speedway that is aimed at rules tweaks to make the cars lighter and help Goodyear develop tires with more grip to improve racing. The 2013 car also will be tested Oct. 4 at Talladega Superspeedway, Oct. 9-10 at Texas Motor Speedway and Oct. 18 at Kansas Speedway.
Dodge is taking part in the tests. The manufacturer hasn't announced any replacements for Penske Racing, which will join Ford next year.
"We do know they're talking to some teams, and that's good," Pemberton said. "The other bit of good news is the sheet metal hasn't been produced yet, so they're not that far behind when any new team signs up. If they had to get someone up to speed, there's opportunity."