Chevrolet unveiled its 2013 Sprint Cup race car model – the SS – in a splashy theater show Thursday, completing the lineup of NASCAR competition vehicles as the sanctioning body and car manufacturers seek to put the stock back in stock car racing, as Chevrolet official Jim Campbell put it.

As in models introduced earlier in the year (the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion), the new Chevrolet follows the lines of the production vehicle more closely than the car – the so-called Car of Tomorrow – that has been raced in the Sprint Cup Series since 2007.

“The new SS looks awesome,” said driver and team owner Tony Stewart. “That’s the great thing. It’s back to looking like a production car again. It’s a design that I really like. It’s got the perfect blend of having a race car look but a street car look at the same time; and that’s hard to do. No matter what you’re a fan of, you’re going to be able to pick out your favorite brand of car and see it from the stands.”

The new car has been in development for many months, and testing continues to define the full parameters of the vehicle and other competition models for next year.

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon drove one of the new cars onto the stage at the Encore theater to the applause of fans in the balcony.

Gordon said the new model tested well.

“What’s different is we have so much going on in the back of the car to turn the cars,” he said. “This car has sideforce already built into it. They’ve taken away from the current car some of the good things and some of the bad things. It took a while to develop that car and get it to where we like it. This one comes out of the box with a lot of grip. There’s still some fine tuning to do.”

Drivers who’ve tested the car say it’s a giant step over the 2007 car debut.

“This car comes out of the box so much further ahead,” Gordon said. “That car had a lot to do when we got on the track. This car is light years ahead of that.”

The production model of the SS is scheduled to debut during Daytona 500 activities in Daytona Beach in February. It will go on sale late next year.

Although the 2013 model cars are designed to tighten competition, particularly on the series’ 1.5-mile tracks, Chevrolet’s Jimmie Johnson said it’s time to consider more dramatic changes to boost side-by-side racing potential.

“Ultimately, I don’t think we can overcome what we want to on the faster tracks with aero,” he said. “Hopefully, the tires will bring in a little different piece. Hopefully, that will create more passing opportunities.

“I think we’ve worked real hard for a number of years on the car and built a quality to have equal cars, and now there’s no passing. In my opinion, we need to be looking at the venues. As we resurface these tracks, start creating tracks where we can pass. Build progressive banking into these tracks and create other ideas because NASCAR and the sport have directed a lot of effort to the teams and put a huge burden on the teams to change these cars year after year, and it’s not an easy thing to do.

“The argument is out if we’ve made it any better. I think we need to look somewhere else and understand why some tracks put on good racing and others don’t.”

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.