"We have declared our interest to NASCAR that we would like to see the Mustang in Cup," Jamie Allison, director of Ford's North American Motorsports program, told The Associated Press on Friday.
The approval process to replace the Fusion with the iconic muscle car could take all year, and depends on the Mustang being competitively equal to the sedan models entered by rival manufacturers Dodge, General Motors and Toyota.
Ford's motive is to get a car on the track that resembles one that can be purchased off a showroom floor.
"We are driving to make sure that the car we race is more consistent and more in context with the cars we sell," Allison said. "They have to look like the cars we sell."
Allison praised NASCAR for switching to an ethanol blend fuel this season. And with Friday's announcement that fuel injection will be used in 2012, that makes two moves that cross over into passenger cars.
The push remains, though, for manufacturers to have a race car with a strong resemblance to vehicles sold to consumers. Allison said the response was overwhelming last season when the Mustang ran in four second-tier Nationwide Series events as a precursor to its full-time use in that series this year.
"It certainly exceeded all expectations," Allison said. "We knew Mustang's affinity from fans, but we did not anticipate the fans who don't follow NASCAR getting so excited. There is a whole cottage industry of Mustang enthusiasts, a group that typically does not follow NASCAR. But when the car was introduced in NASCAR, it started garnering attention.
"It really shows because of the car, what it means to people, they started taking an interest. And now, when you stand and see the car coming down the backstretch, you can see it's a Mustang and that's important."
NASCAR has for several years been battling a fan complaint that the car manufacturers all look alike and it's impossible to tell a Ford from a Dodge from a Chevrolet from a Toyota.
Slight body tweaks over the last few seasons have improved the issue slightly, and a lower nose change this season have given the four models more brand recognition.
Ford, which is seeking its 600th win in the Cup Series in the season-opening Daytona 500, will continue to race the Fusion this season and next.