Each of the Detroit Three automakers have a presence in NASCAR stock car racing, but that won’t be the case come next season. Chrysler announced today that its Dodge/SRT brands will be withdrawing from both NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide race series after the 2012 season.
The move isn’t completely surprising. In March, Penske Racing – the last major full-time team fielding Charger stock cars in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series (along with some Challenger-styled entries in the latter) – announced it would be partnering with Ford for the 2013 season. Penske continued and continues to field Dodge vehicles for the remainder of the 2012 season, but the announcement essentially left Dodge without any drivers or teams for the 2013 NASCAR season.
The announcement couldn’t have come at a more awkward juncture, as Dodge was weeks away from unveiling its redesigned 2013 Sprint Cup Charger, which was developed with extensive assistance from Penske. At the time, SRT brand CEO Ralph Gilles suggested the writing wasn’t quite on the wall, and that the automaker was “evaluating the opportunities available moving forward.” But as Gilles said today on a conference call held with members of the press, "the pieces didn't quite come together" as SRT had hoped.
"Clearly, this is an extremely difficult decision to have to share with you, our employees, our fans, and the NASCAR community,"Gilles said. "After our thorough five-month evaluation process, we've decided to withdraw from NASCAR at the end of the 2012 season."
Though Gilles notes he was "pleasantly surprised" by the number of teams and sponsors who approached Chrysler to replace Penske, he referred to the situation as a "multi-piece jigsaw puzzle," and ultimately, there wasn't quite a way to replace the Team Penske-sized hole in a manner consistent with Dodge's present efforts.
"This issue came about many years ago when we consolidated down to one team," Gilles notes. "We had one-stop shopping with Penske, but what's available in North Carolina isn't what was available 5-10 years ago. I'm not undermining the caliber of those who came to talk to us, but it's not as easy to configure a team at a level we're used to. But we don't just want to show up; we want to race to win."
Gilles harbors no ill will towards Penske Racing magnate Roger Penske, whose switch to Ford for the 2013 season effective triggered this series of events. "Roger is hard to replace," Gilles said, "but Roger would be the first person to tell you the Ford signing wasn't in his crystal ball. Ford put a long-term deal in front of him that was hard to pass up, and we were [reviewing our NASCAR operations] at the time."
Contrary to some speculation, Gilles says the decision to withdraw is not based on budgetary reasons, noting Dodge recently tripled its NASCAR budget.
"My goal was to extract the most out of motorsports, and we we made the decision at the beginning of the year to put more money in, and have a bigger presence. We've been doing proportionately well [in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series] given we've only run two cars, and [Chrysler] management has looked upon that as an accomplishment."
Gilles points to the Dart's involvement in the Global RallyCross Championship, along with the return of the Viper GTS-R to the American Le Mans Series, as evidence of Chrysler's increased motorsports investment, but notes the NASCAR budget was discrete, and won't necessarily be divvied up to either operation.
For now, that 2013 Charger Sprint Cup car is essentially stillborn. "We were actually just working on data acquisition on the car a few days ago," Gilles said. "We've been working on this car for two years, and we were very happy with the result. Aerodynamic testing was positive, and I thought it was the best looking NASCAR out there. Many of our competitors were giving us slaps-on-the-back for how good it looked. It'll make a nice sculpture in the meantime."
Source: Chrysler, USA Today