By Patrick Rall
Earlier this week SRT Motorsports President and CEO Ralph
Gilles confirmed something that many of us had feared – the Chrysler Group is
pulling their factory backed program from the NASCAR Nationwide, Sprint Cup and
Camping World Truck Series after the 2012 racing season. The company will continue to support their
current teams through the 2012 racing season but starting next year, any teams
looking to run a Dodge Charger in the Sprint Cup Series, the Dodge Challenger
in the Nationwide Series or the Ram 1500 in the Camping World Truck Series will
not have factory backing – effectively ending the presence of the Dodge and Ram
brands in the NASCAR world.
This decision comes after the Chrysler Group and SRT Motorsports
spent a few months hunting for a team willing to run the Dodge Charger and
Dodge Challenger in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series next year. Right now, the only two Dodge entries in each
of those leagues are owned by Penske Racing and for 2013, Penske will leave
Dodge in favor of Ford. We can expect to
see the #12 and #22 Nationwide Series Challengers converted over to Ford
Mustangs while the #2 and #22 Sprint Cup teams will swap from the Dodge Charger
to the Ford Fusion.
When other brand have left NASCAR in the past such as Buick,
Oldsmobile, Pontiac or even the Chrysler brands in the 1970s, it was because
their cars were no longer competitive.
That is not the case with the current Dodge NASCAR entries as Brad
Keselowski is currently in 7th place in the Sprint Cup while Sam
Hornish Jr has his Challenger in the 4th place in the Nationwide
race for the championship.
Unfortunately, money talks and Penske is headed to richer pastures with
the new Mustang and Fusion. Based on the
fact that SRT Motorsports couldn’t find a team (or teams) who were both
interested in running a Dodge product AND being competitive – it makes sense
that the Chrysler Group will once again end their factory NASCAR program.
There is an outside chance that we will see a Dodge or Ram
product in NASCAR but considering that there were only two full time Dodge
products in each the Nationwide and Sprint Cup venues when there was a strong
factory backing – the likelihood of seeing a competitive Dodge or Ram privateer
in NASCAR after 2012 is very, very slim.
We could see some part time racers (similar to Robbie Gordon) in NASCAR
in 2013 and beyond but the chances of seeing a Dodge driver claiming a
checkered flag after this year isn’t very good.
In addition to the lack of a strong team for 2013, SRT
Motorsports and the Chrysler Group may have looked at the slumping popularity
of NASCAR. Younger motorsports
enthusiasts are less interested in NASCAR than they are other forms of racing
such as rallycross, drag racing and off-road truck racing. On top of the growth of those other
motorsports, there is the fact that they are all venues in which SRT
Motorsports currently has successful (or soon to be successful in the case of
the new SRT Viper GTS-R) so it makes sense for Chrysler to put more money into
those other sports where they are making more headlines.
While it sucks to see the NASCAR program die once again
(Dodge first left NASCAR in 1977), I look forward to seeing Travis Pastrana and
his Dodge Dart rally car tearing up the Global RallyCross circuit in the last
event of the 2012 season and through the 2013 season. Dodge/Mopar teams have been dominating the
Pro Stock and Funny Car divisions of the NHRA drag racing scene and Rob
MacCachren is the top dog in the Torc truck racing series right now with his
Ram 1500 race truck – so there is no shortage of successful Dodge/Ram teams to
cheer for in the world of auto racing.