It was no surprise that Dodge announced this week it is pulling out of NASCAR at the end of the season.
In recent years Dodge has been reduced to being a bit player in NASCAR with only two cars in the 43-car Sprint Cup field. This year Penske Racing has been NASCAR’s only Dodge-equipped team running cars full-time in both the first division Sprint Cup and the second division Nationwide Series. Brad Keselowski (below) has won three Sprint Cup races so far this year in one of Penske’s Dodges while Sam Hornish has also won three times in the Nationwide series.
But a few months ago ‘The Captain’, Roger Penske, announced he was switching to Ford next year. His move left Dodge high and dry, searching for a new partnership. Dodge discovered all of NASCAR’s top teams are firmly committed to Chevrolet, Toyota or Ford, and in searching for the right team it reached out and talked to Michael Andretti, exploring the possibility of Andretti expanding beyond IndyCar. But those conversations came to nothing and Dodge took the decision last week to end its NASCAR programme.
Dodge’s racing boss Ralph Gilles (below) said money wasn’t a driving factor in the decision. Gilles instead said it was because Dodge couldn’t find the right team or partners to build, develop and race its cars and engines. “We couldn’t unfortunately put together a structure that made sense to continue our business and competitive objectives for next year,” Gilles commented. “This decision was not based on budgets. This was a case of the different pieces of the puzzle not fitting together to satisfy the structure we needed to fit our overall business and competitive objectives.”
Dodge won its first race in NASCAR’s premier division in 1953 with Lee Petty driving his own car. The Pettys – three-time champion Lee and his son, seven-time champion Richard – were synonymous with Dodge or Plymouth for many years with Richard winning the 1974 and ‘75 NASCAR championships aboard Petty Enterprises STP Dodges.
In 1977 Dodge pulled out of NASCAR for the first time, returning almost a quarter of a century later in 2001. Chip Ganassi’s fledgling NASCAR team raced Dodges for a few years with some success, but in 2008 Ganassi merged with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and switched to Chevrolet. Richard Petty’s team also raced Dodges for a few years, but Petty moved to Ford this year with Penske announcing earlier this year that his NASCAR team will join Petty and Jack Roush’s Roush-Fenway team in Ford’s corral next season.
Richard Petty’s son Kyle raced in NASCAR for many years and now works as a TV commentator. On SpeedTV in America this week Kyle put some perspective on Dodge’s departure from NASCAR.
“Dodge leaving is a big deal because it was a big deal when they came back,” Petty said. “Years ago NASCAR had Ford, Chevy, Buick, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and so forth, but it had dwindled down to Ford and Chevy. So when Dodge came back, having a return to ‘The Big Three’ was huge. “Sponsorship is down on a lot of cars. Teams running in the back and middle of the field are struggling to find finances and manufacturer support. So with only three manufacturers next year and those three probably entrenched with their current teams, Dodge leaving widens the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’
“When it comes to the fans, there still is a group loyal to particular manufacturers, although that is a small segment. However, whether you’re a Ford, Chevy or Toyota fan, you look at this and figure that if Dodge can pull out, so can any of the remaining three. So this impacts the perception of the sport.”