Will fans see the NASCAR version of the 2013 Dodge Charger on track next year, even with a independent team? [Photo Courtesy of Dodge Motorsports]
Dodge Leaves NASCAR - What Next?
by Steve Zautke
Big Bend, WI (August 7, 2012) - Although the news was not surprising when Dodge announced that they were leaving NASCAR today, it seemed unlikely when they unveiled the 2013 NASCAR Charger in March, several months ago. When Dodge revealed the much applauded Charger at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, they were still reeling with the news that Penske Racing was leaving them to move to their cross town rival, Ford.
Buddy Arrington continued to campaign Dodges even after they pulled out of NASCAR in 1977. [Doug Schellinger Collection]
Speculation at the time was a 'good team' would love to be the manufacturer's lead team. Many thought it would be a chance for a organization such as Ganassi or who's nowhere near the top of the pecking order at Chevrolet to gain some R&D and much needed development money. In March, SRT CEO Ralph Gilles was upbeat about Dodge's prospects for 2013. He was quoted as saying there's already a lot of interest from different Cup outfits, and that he was expecting to announce which team or teams will be running the car in 2013 by mid-summer. However today had a different tone. "We were initially pleased to see the vast amount of interest from multiple teams and sponsors that came our way with a lot of interesting packages and ideas. We looked at this process as a multi piece puzzle. Capacity has shrunk dramatically over the years in the NASCAR world. We could not unfortunately put together a puzzle or a structure that made sense to continue our business and competitive objectives for next year. This decision was not based on budgets. Even though we have diversified in many sports this year, this was really NASCAR centric discussion."
For whatever reason, Dodge could not persuade Ganassi or Ford's Richard Petty Motorsports to come over to the Auburn Hills, MI-based manufacturer. Rumors two months ago centered on the Indianapolis-based Andretti Autosport expanding their IndyCar team with a NASCAR arm, like Penske and Ganassi. However, speculation is that Dodge balked at the numbers Andretti Autosport wanted to expand into NASCAR. Last week it was rumors of Furniture Row expanding to a two-car team with Kurt Busch with Dodge. Apparently, Dodge could not justify the dollars needed to the bean counters with what some consider as a "C" level team.
The question is, will we see the 2013 Charger on track next year (minus factory support)? Gilles stated, "That's up to NASCAR. We have to understand what that means, because we won't have a factory sign up, so to speak. So we'll have to see what that means." I think what he meant is he doesn't know yet. If history is any indication, in 1977 when Dodge pulled out of NASCAR, several independent teams ran Dodges. The one memorable one was Buddy Arrington who ran Dodge Magnums and later Chryslers into the early 1980's. One hopes that someone carries the Dodge flag next year, that car is too sharp to keep tucked away in a warehouse.
I totally agree with speculation that it was a decision made higher up in the corporation, several believe it was Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne along with his Italian executives who didn't buy into the NASCAR idea even though past comments made to the contrary. What next? Dodge has their SRT Motorsports Viper Racing program in the GT Series of the American LeMans Series with Tommy Kendall as one of the drivers of the two-car effort. The Viper which is being re-released to the public later this year will be challenging Corvette, Ferrari and Porsche on road courses throughout North America.
Where have you gone Buddy Arrington? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.