When NASCAR introduced its “Car of Tomorrow” (COT) during the 2007 Sprint Cup season, it was supposed to make racing more affordable for teams and more entertaining for fans, as the one-size-fits-all body was designed to promote close racing.

While the COT did encourage wheel-to-wheel racing and close finishes, it didn’t do much to attract new fans to the sport. The featureless COT bodies didn’t come close to resembling the cars they were supposedly based on, even when festooned with stick-on grilles, headlights and trim.

It was hard to maintain the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” philosophy when the car customers shopped looked like the car campaigned by their favorite driver only in the vaguest sense of the word. Fortunately, rule changes for 2013 now allow bodies resembling production cars to be used on the COT frames.

While the new NASCAR Sprint Cup racers still aren’t an exact match to their production counterparts, they’re close enough for government work. The NASCAR Ford Fusion seen here sports a similar grille shape, character lines, headlight recesses, greenhouse shape and front end to the production version.

Sure, the Sprint Cup version is still longer, wider and lower, and Ford won’t be offering an 850-horsepower, 5.8-liter V-8 or rear-wheel drive option for production cars any time soon, but at least the 2013 Sprint Cup racers will look familiar to fans.

How will that change the racing? We’ll find out when the season opens at the Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 24.