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NASCAR Should Be Racing SUVs

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author photo by Chris O'Neill December 2017

The original idea behind NASCAR racing was that stock passenger vehicles were taken straight from the assembly line to a racetrack, where they'd go head-to-head with similar vehicles from other manufacturers for bragging rights -- or, more accurately, for the right for the manufacturer to advertise that their car was the fastest around the track.

A famous saying associated with NASCAR is "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday," in reference to the phenomenon that whichever car won that Sunday's race would experience a sales boost the next day, as people wanted to drive a winner.

Well, since those glory days of stock-car racing, things have changed -- and family sedans and muscle cars are falling out of favor with consumers as the years go on. What would it take for NASCAR to get back to its true roots of featuring the same vehicles on the racetrack that customers go into the dealership to buy?

NASCAR would have to switch to SUVs.

Right now, in the 2017 season, a NASCAR race sees the Toyota Camry go up against the Ford Fusion and the soon-to-be-euthanized Chevrolet SS, which will be replaced with the Camaro for 2018. When Fiat-Chrysler last participated in 2012, it did so with a Dodge Charger. By continuing to market vehicles from a shrinking segment, automakers are missing out on an opportunity. The industry has changed considerably since these norms were established. The "cars" being represented in today's NASCAR are seeing shrinking sales volumes -- and they hardly even compete with one another on the showroom floor.

Here's my proposal for a more marketing-friendly, all-SUV NASCAR series.

Ford

Current NASCAR Entry: Fusion

Proposed SUV Entry: Explorer

This is an easy one -- for better or worse, the Explorer is an American icon.

Toyota

Current NASCAR Entry: Camry

Proposed SUV Entry: Highlander

Sorry to disappoint Toyota truck enthusiasts, but let's be real here -- the Highlander is Toyota's most broadly appealing SUV.

Chevrolet:

Current NASCAR Entry: SS; Replaced with Camaro for 2018

Proposed SUV Entry: Traverse

Not exactly exciting -- but to stay in the unibody, family-hauler arena, the Traverse would be the obvious choice for General Motors' entry.

Fiat-Chrysler:

Most Recent NASCAR Entry: Dodge Charger

Proposed SUV Entry: Jeep Grand Cherokee

Jeep is by far Fiat-Chrysler's strongest brand, with the Grand Cherokee serving as its flagship. The availability of SRT and Trackhawk versions make for an even more compelling case.

Here's the part where the criticisms should pile in. "This isn't what stock car racing is!", you might say. In reality though, it's been 50 years since there was much of anything "stock" about NASCAR racing. "What about the aerodynamics?" If aerodynamics were the main concern, we'd all be watching Ford GTs and McLaren P1s -- or simply actual Formula 1 cars -- racing around the track. Finally: "SUVs have a higher center of gravity; less structural rigidity!" We all know these race-SUVs would be little more than shells wrapped around the same old engines and chassis being used today -- there's no need to change anything beyond the body.

When it comes down to it, NASCAR exists in large part because it serves as a marketing tool for the auto industry; an industry that is fast seeing consumers shed traditional cars for larger SUVs. So the next time you see a NASCAR race on TV, just think: In a perfect world, all those drivers would be piloting the same vehicles around the track they already drive during the week while hauling their kids.

Chris O'Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He managed to work in the auto industry for a while without once crashing a corporate fleet vehicle. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.

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NASCAR Should Be Racing SUVs - Autotrader