(Will a Dodge Charger compete in the Sprint Cup Series in 2013 or will the manufacturer leave?)
Now that the dust has settled on the bombshell announcement of Penske Racing leaving Dodge for Ford next season, what are the ramifications of the decision?
Currently the only Dodge team in NASCAR, Penske’s move to the Blue Oval means a more crowded Ford camp and at this point a giant void for his former manufacturer.
Penske’s return to Ford gives “The Captain” a better chance to be successful in his mind and was the only motivation in the change.
“Let me say this, this wasn’t about money,” Penske said. “We’ve been operating for the last 10 years pretty much with some support in the previous years, maybe four or five years ago, but we needed to have a benchmark and I think that having that additional technical information flow through the process as Ford has outlined it to us, I think, was very important to us.”
Until Thursday Penske and his organization had preached the gospel of being the only Dodge team as a benefit. With no other organizations in the sport, the manufacturer was able to funnel all of its resources to the two-car effort at Penske.
That view obviously changed and apparently the opportunity to align with Ford presented a better option.
“I think when we weighed the plusses and minuses of the opportunity, it was apparent to us that we need to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship and we have been trying to do it alone,” Penske said of being the lone Dodge entity.
“I think with a certain amount of sponsorship available to us and we were fielding two, three cars and then some in the Nationwide, but having the opportunity to benchmark with someone like Roush, who has been world-class, you could see the performance this past weekend with [Matt] Kenseth and how good their cars are, we thought that it was the time for us to evaluate other options.”
Now it’s time for Dodge to evaluate what options are available in the post-Penske era. There is speculation the manufacturer may simply leave NASCAR and focus its resources on the various other forms of motorsports it currently participates in.
Dodge plans to unveil its 2013 Charger next week in Las Vegas, an event that had been in the works for several weeks. The company still plans to show the car to the world obviously without Penske’s participation.
Since work on the new Sprint Cup car has been on the drawing board for some time, it does seem unlikely Dodge would scrap that path and pull up its NASCAR stakes.
However the statement released by the company on Thursday did leave the door open to that possibility.
“Our motorsports involvement isn't limited to NASCAR. We do value our NASCAR program and will be evaluating the opportunities available moving forward,” said Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of Dodge’s Street Racing and Technology Brand and Motorsports, in the statement. “As those opportunities materialize, we'll reveal our 2013 plans, not only in NASCAR but in other forms of motorsports."
That doesn’t sound like a resounding, “we’re sticking around NASCAR and the Sprint Cup Series” to me.
Finding a new team to replace Penske appears to be a major challenge for Dodge’s NASCAR future. Most of the major organizations in the garage area are locked into manufacturer agreements for several years.
A rumor that Richard Petty Motorsports, a former Dodge player that has its Ford contract up for renewal at season’s end, could return to the fold was shot down by the organization at least for the time being Thursday night.
“We welcome Penske Racing to the Ford Racing Family in 2013,” read the statement. “Additional teams mean more information for everyone and that's a very good thing from a competition standpoint.
“We have a partnership with Roush Fenway Racing and we are happy to be a part of the Ford Racing program. As we always do, we will evaluate all of our options and make decisions based on what is ultimately best for our race team.”
Other candidates may include Chip Ganassi’s team, which once was a Dodge operation in NASCAR. However Ganassi’s alignment with Chevy supporter DEI and his successful Earnhardt Childress Racing engine program would appear to be major hurdles to any kind of change.
The elevation of a current Nationwide Series of even Camping World Truck Series to carry the Dodge banner in Sprint Cup is also possible, but such a program would more than likely take several years before becoming competitive at the sport’s top level.
The coming days and weeks will very much shape the manufacturer landscape for 2013 and beyond. The introduction of the new Sprint Cup car next season pretty much levels the playing field and allows teams and their manufacturers to figure things out from a blank piece of paper.
But unless Dodge can find a new partner willing to be a lone wolf, it won’t be surprising to see one less manufacturer in the garage area next year.
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