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Ford, Dodge or Chevy ready to exit NASCAR UPDATE #12 The Autoextremist's Peter M. DeLorenzo is at it again predicting in his latest Fumes article that it is just a matter of time before Ford, Chevy or Dodge exit NASCAR.  He states that the ugly Car of Tomorrow will be just the ticket that pushes them over the edge.  We think it's more the case of Toyota coming in, destroying them on the race track by buying the best people, and they saying why should we spend $140 million per year to look like monkeys?  In every race series Toyota has entered in the USA, they drove all the American manufacturers out.  Let's take Ford for example.  If they are spending $140 million per year in NASCAR and are made to look like monkeys by Toyota, which is inevitable, imagine what they could do for themselves and for Champ Car by spending $100 million per year where they have exclusivity and can help grow the series to new heights with their marketing department having their fingers all over it.  A far better use of their money in our book.  Spend $140 to look like a monkey, or spend $100 million and win every race.  You decide.....

08/07/06 If the cutoff for the Chase had been Sunday, instead of five weeks down the road at Richmond, the sport's three most popular drivers all would have a chance to race for the Nextel Cup championship.

But the question was, "What's missing?"

And the answer is "Dodge."

Kasey Kahne's last-lap crash at the Brickyard and resulting 36th-place finish dropped him from seventh to 11th in the points standings, the first time Kahne has been outside the top 10 since finishing 12th in the season-opening Daytona 500.

That leaves the entire Dodge contingent outside the Chase with five races left to remedy the situation.

The absence of Dodge drivers in the top 10 also brings to the fore broader questions about the level of DaimlerChrysler's commitment to the NASCAR arena. The company already has cut back its support for the Craftsman Truck and Busch Series.

John Fernandez, director of Dodge Motorsports, and Bob Wildberger, Dodge senior manager of NASCAR operations, have taken early retirement. Fernandez now works for Ganassi Racing. Wildberger's last day with Dodge was the Friday before the Allstate 400.

So you have to wonder about Dodge's future in NASCAR, even in the face of DaimlerChrysler chairman Dieter Zetsche's public-relations trip to Daytona in July -- not to mention the appearance of his face on the hood of Mayfield's car.

The company's recent snappy ad campaign, featuring Dr. Z, represents a not-so-subtle shift in brand identity away from Chrysler and toward Mercedes. Does that also suggest a shift from a distinctly American sport, stock car racing? Sporting News

08/07/06 Bob Wildberger, another top Dodge Motorsports executive, is retiring. Dodge maintains it means nothing, and that they are committed to NASCAR.

08/04/06 See Hot News, as predicted, John Fernandez has left Dodge to work for Chip Ganassi.  Hmm......

07/01/06 Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board for DaimlerChrysler, reaffirmed his company's commitment to NASCAR prior to the Pepsi 400 Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.

Attending his first race of the 2006 NASCAR season and his first since last August's event at Michigan, Zetsche said Dodge remains committed to the sport. Dodge re-entered Cup racing in 2001. 

 "I don't know who is creating those rumors [we're leaving] - probably the competition. We have no reason whatsoever [to leave]," Zetsche said while standing in the pit of Dodge star Kasey Kahne. "We are very happy with NASCAR. It is a great platform, and Dodge is the right brand to race NASCAR. And of course we want to win championships, but lets see."

06/19/06 Below we predicted that if any of the Big 3 pull out of NASCAR it would be Dodge.  Then we hear things that make one go hmmm.....supposedly Dodge Motorsports Director, John Fernandez, will leave Dodge and take over the General Manager position at Chip Ganassi Racing on July 1st.  Does Fernandez see the writing on the wall now?  Rumors say that if Dodge bails, Penske and Ganassi will quickly jump ship to Toyota.

05/07/06 John Fernandez, Dodge's racing director, said things are running along quite smoothly this spring, but Detroit sources said some shakeups may be coming down in the Daimler-Chrysler racing camp. One potential issue - some Dodge dealers are said to be in revolt over the $70 a car fee they have to charge their customers to pay for part of Dodge's NASCAR operations. [Editor's Note: Like we said, if any of the Big 3 pull out of NASCAR, it will most likely be Dodge.....and then Roger Penske can move his team to Toyota as the rumor mill suggests.]

Nevertheless Dodge reported it sold 9,662 Chargers in April, 11 percent more than in March, making it one of the best sales months since the model hit the road last May, even though car sales in the U.S. generally fell in April, because of soaring gas prices.  Winston Salem Journal

05/03/06 Several Internet sites picked up our story about the potential possibility of one of the Detroit automakers pulling out of NASCAR, which set off shock waves in NASCAR Nation. Autoweek even weighed into the fray (while intentionally not identifying us) by contacting representatives from the Detroit Three's NASCAR programs, and they all denied having any knowledge of the fact that any discussions of this type were even going on. Which is true, because they wouldn't know. These discussions are ongoing and are confined at the very top of one of the companies - and the people currently involved in the stewardship of this particular company's NASCAR program are specifically being kept out of the loop for fear they are too close to the NASCAR solar system and can't be objective on the issue. That's why it's business as usual for the people assigned to the company's NASCAR program, because even preliminary knowledge or the hint of these kinds of discussions taking place would cause tremendous problems. But the discussions are real - and they're dead serious.

The NASCAR love-fest seems to have run its course with this one particular automaker. One high-level executive who understandably refused to have his identity revealed had this to say, "There's a growing feeling that the popularity of NASCAR is having less and less benefit for us when it comes down to what we need to accomplish in the marketplace. It remains a promotional and entertainment vehicle for our dealers, but that's about it. The timing of these discussions is not the greatest because outsiders will think we've come to this point because of the imminent arrival of Toyota in the series, but that has nothing to do with it...at all."   More at Autoextremist.com 

04/24/06 Back to the bottom of this rumor where we speculated about Mercedes possibly looking at IndyCar/Champ Car again through an Ilmor association - after the merger.  Our spies snapped this photo in mid-town Manhattan on a closed-off section of street behind the Roosevelt Hotel at 42nd and 5th Ave.  A film crew was working on what we assume was a Mercedes-Benz commercial.  As you can see, they had a CLK convertible and a Champ Car.  The livery was the blue-purple MCI colors from a few years back, run by Cal Wells.  Our spies didn't see the Champ Car move so we can't tell you anything else, but a Mercedes and a Champ Car in the same ad does raise some questions, doesn't it? 

04/23/06 There has been a lot of talk about one of the current manufacturers involved in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition making plans to exit the arena. John Fernandez, Director, Dodge Motorsports Operations, says he's heard the rumblings, but isn't the focus.
“I’ve heard the rumor, but obviously we’re not involved in it. I haven’t heard anything from General Motors or Ford that indicates they’re in any jeopardy. Obviously their total companies right now are having a tough time in the marketplace, but that’s happened before and it’ll happen again I’m sure. As far as I know, GM and Ford are still committed to NASCAR and committed to racing in the Cup Series. As far as I know right now it’s only a rumor.”

So how long is Dodge's current commitment to NASCAR?

“I don’t think there’s anything set out there right now as far as how long we’re committed for. I think we still believe it’s the right place to be to show off the image we’re trying to project for the Dodge brand performance, the capableness of our cars."  More at CircleTrackPlus.com

04/22/06 Reports that one of Detroit's Big Three auto manufacturers may be considering dropping out of NASCAR racing swirled through the Cup garage yesterday, possibly stemming from the report that Ford's SVT (Special Vehicle Team) program may be shut down in October. Ford SVT was organized 15 years ago to handle the company's specialty racing-related cars, such as Mustangs.

But Ford's Kevin Kennedy, the company's public-affairs manager for racing, said that there are no plans to get out of NASCAR: "We've seen that story, and I can assure you Ford does not plan on getting out of NASCAR. Our racing program has support at the highest levels of the company, and our research and data has shown conclusively that there's a viable business case for us being involved in the sport in terms of our market share and purchase consideration among race fans. Racing is part of the Ford DNA and has been since Henry Ford raced back in 1901."

General Motors' Pat Suhy, the company's NASCAR director, said that GM isn't leaving, either: "We're here in NASCAR and we're here to stay. It makes good business sense for us to be here. We get a great return on our investment. We have a lot of activation around this around the country with our dealers and our regional dealer groups. And we have great sponsorship partners with our teams. So if there is any truth to that, I don't know about it, and it certainly isn't us."

Ray Evernham, owner of the season's winningest operation, which is sponsored by Dodge dealers, said: "I can't speak for Dodge, but I can tell you I know they're happy. If you look at their stock, it's up. And they're the only American manufacturer with an increase in market share. I've got a really long-term contract with them, and if I were a betting man, I'd bet it's not Daimler." Winston Salem Journal

[Editor's Note: Below we predicted if any manufacturer leaves NASCAR it will be Dodge. Note the quotes above from Ford and Chevy are from an official team spokesperson whereas for Dodge it is a team owner (Evernham) who is not an official spokesperson for the manufacturer and who would not be clued into what Daimler Chrysler is planning....again it's all speculation for now.]

04/20/06   Another perspective - The specific mention in the Autoextremist story of a wish to be involved in Le Mans-style sports car racing. This manufacturer supposedly wants to compete in a production-based racing series that gives a greater recognition to the manufacturer, more than just a badge on a chassis template. The ALMS Series' platform can provide that by putting the relevance of a manufacturer's latest technological innovations to the forefront. Look at what the R10's win at Sebring has done to the discussion of new diesel technology in North America. That is a large reason why Audi has decided to campaign the cars here...the car is a marketing presentation by itself. The American Le Mans Series also provides a direct link to a dealer showroom through the GT1 and GT2 classes.
The article also states that the manufacturer has the goal of winning overall at Le Mans. Just for speculation, Chrysler already has been involved with an LMP1 project by supplying the engine for a Dallara-built chassis earlier in the decade (2001?) on top of the highly successful Viper GTS-R in 1999 and 2000. And we all know how involved Mercedes has been at Le Mans, as well.

04/20/06 It has come to our attention that serious discussions are taking place for the first time in the conference rooms of one domestic manufacturer in particular on a subject heretofore unthinkable in Detroit. The subject? Pulling out of NASCAR. Yes, it has been mentioned before, and I have predicted it for months now - ever since the announcement was made that Toyota would be buying its way into the France family circus - but we have confirmation that not only are the discussions taking place, they're so far down the road that a timetable for a pullout has been created, taking into account the end dates of existing contracts with individual racing teams currently aligned with this particular manufacturer.

This Detroit manufacturer has decided that if it competes in motorsports in the future, it will only compete in three basic areas: 1. In production-based racing series that by rule and specification retain more than a passing resemblance to the cars they sell and the competitors they compete against in showrooms. 2. "Technical" efforts, in other words, engine programs for open-wheel and prototype racing series, but stopping short of Formula 1. And 3. Developing an effort to compete for the overall victory at Le Mans. Any other efforts, grass-roots racing, drag racing, etc., would be covered as the need and budget allow. More at autoextremeist.com

[Editor's Note: Whereas NASCAR used to be a Chevy vs. Ford battle and fans really took sides, NASCAR years ago decided to make the drivers heroes, not the cars. This led to tremendous growth because fans worship "heroes" not cars. Hence the car manufacturer gets far less out of NASCAR now than years ago - the driver is now front and center. NASCAR could easily lose Dodge (there are already rumors that Penske will dump Dodge for Toyota eventually), but if Ford or Chevy pull out it will be a serious blow.

Ford motorsport boss Dan Davis loves NASCAR, so we don't see them dropping out. Likewise for Chevy, they have been engrained in NASCAR for so long and they continue to make major investments. The Germans (Mercedes) now running DaimlerChrysler have little appreciation for NASCAR coming from the high-tech world of F1.  We also think that, out of the Big-3,  Dodge is getting the least benefit out of NASCAR.

So we are betting that it is Dodge that has the least to lose by pulling out. As a result, would we see Mercedes (or Dodge) back in IndyCars with Ilmor doing their engines now that the costs have been put in check with the new rules. Roger Penske didn't recently buy back a major share in Ilmor for no good reason, Roger is always one step ahead of the curve.  In fact, it would not surprise us one bit if Dodge/Mercedes vs. Ford vs. Honda were part of the IRL/Champ Car merger plans.]

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