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If Ford's NASCAR teams retire the Fusion, perhaps there's a bolder name than Mustang

Mike Reader, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

However, Forbes' Doron Levin reported last week that a downgrade in the company's credit outlook could make a shakeup in the Ford lineup more likely and could accelerate the end of U.S. Fusion sales.

And if the Fusion brand's future is in doubt, or limbo, then it might be smart for NASCAR's Ford racing teams to use another name on their cars.

Meanwhile, Toyota and Chevrolet have redesigned their race cars to look more like what people see in the showrooms.

Toyota got a new-look Camry in 2017. The aerodynamics on that new racing Camry is credited in part for the dominance of Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. The runnerup, Kyle Busch, also drove a Camry. (For the record, four of the top seven drivers in the final standings drove Toyotas.)

Toyota also posted its best-ever December (43,331 cars) and quarterly sales for the consumer Camry.

This season, Chevrolet teams get a new Camaro, replacing the Chevrolet SS, whose dealership doppelganger was an agile Australian-designed super sedan (a rebadged Holden Commodore SS) with a V8. The street SS was an athletic hunk of stealthy horsepower for the money, but few people bought one -- about 3,000 sold in 2016 -- perhaps because it looked like a taxi. Or didn't look enough like NASCAR's Chevy SS. Or because it wasn't an SUV.

Ford team Cup cars have used the Fusion name since 2006, through three body-style changes, the last coming in 2016. That's the second longest run for a Ford name in NASCAR; "Thunderbird" was used from 1978 to 1997. Perhaps a change is due regardless of what happens with the passenger car.

2. What could replace the Ford Fusion nameplate in NASCAR?

It's been a long time since NASCAR cars looked just like the ones you could drive off a dealer's lot. But if automakers still hope to use NASCAR as a marketing tool for their new cars, it still makes sense that they use a name from a vehicle that NASCAR fans are likely to aspire to drive off the track.

The Ford Fusion, even the Sport version with a V6, never really fit that bill. It's a family car -- sensible, not bad looking but not envy-inspiring, either. No one's ever pulled up to a Fusion at a stoplight and wondered what its 0-60 mph time is. No, this is a car that's likely to get a bumper sticker that reads, "My other car is a ..."

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