Dodge’s Departure A Sad End to Iconic Brand

After a 12-year run in their second return to NASCAR competition, Dodge announced on Tuesday that they are pulling out of NASCAR for the second time – withdrawing their brand from competition in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series at the conclusion of the current 2012 season.

The announcement capped a season of uncertainly for the future of the brand in NASCAR after the lone Dodge-backed team, Penske Racing, announced in March they were switching back to Ford for the 2013 season, leaving no Dodge teams left on the roster.

“We’ve spent an intense five months working to identify and evaluate all options for
our future involvement in NASCAR," said Dodge SRT President & CEO Ralph Gilles. “A number of opportunities emerged, and our team worked diligently to put a structure together to fit our overall business and competitive objectives. While we have been pleased and enthused with the amount of interest from teams and sponsors over that time, in the end, we simply couldn’t develop the right structure."

Although it was rumored that long-time Dodge supporter Richard Petty would switch back to Dodge for 2013, or perhaps a new Michael Andretti-led effort would come up board, nothing materialized. With few teams expressing interest and nothing promising on the horizon, Dodge opted to throw in the towel.

“We had a chance at the end of last year to kind of scale back, but while we are in the look and see moment is when (Penske’s) decision was made to go with Ford," said Gilles. “So, unfortunately that happened, caught us by surprise and we have not recovered since."

Since returning to the sport in 2001, Dodge has captured 55 victories and championships in both the NASCAR Nationwide and Truck Series, but it has always lagged behind in Sprint Cup, where they’ve haven’t won a championship since 1975.

Dodge has enjoyed a long and storied history in NASCAR, dating back to NASCAR’s first official stock car race in 1949 that saw two Chryslers take to the track.

From 1949 to 1977, Dodge and its related brands captured nine titles – including seven by Petty – and 409 victories with some of the sports most iconic drivers behind the wheel, including Lee and Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Isaac and Buddy Baker, who in 1969 became the first NASCAR driver to run over 200 mph, running a winged Dodge Daytona.

Dodge also produced the iconic “hemi" – an engine using hemispherical combustion chambers – that took NASCAR by storm in the 1960’s and led to NASCAR banning the engine and a subsequent boycott of NASCAR by Chrysler in 1965.

But in 1977 Dodge left NASCAR, and only a few independent teams raced the brand. Petty himself campaigned a Dodge at the start of the 1978 season before switching to Chevrolet mid-season.

Dodge made their first return to NASCAR in 1995, entering the Dodge RAM pickup in the fledgling truck series, where they went onto claim 60 victories and two championships from 1995 to 2008.

Then in 2001, following a 24-year absence from competition, Dodge returned to the top tier in NASCAR with much fanfare.

Spearheaded by championship-winner crew-chief-turned-team-owner Ray Evernham and former championship-winning driver Bill Elliott, Dodge’s splashy return touted their “one team" concept, with much of the engineering being done at Evernham’s Statesville, NC race shop and shared among all the Dodge teams. The effort paid off with Dodge collecting four victories in the then-Winston Cup Series in 2001 and at one point even led the championship points standings.

While Evernham’s team would eventually be sold off and fall under the Ford banner, Penske would later emerge as Dodge’s flagship operation, switching over from Ford in 2003. Since then, Penske would account for 29 of Dodge’s 55 victories, including their most recent win this season at Kentucky with driver Brad Keselowski, who earned Dodge a championship last season in the Nationwide Series.

But Dodge’s support for NASCAR has waned significantly over the last few years, largely in part due the state of the economy and parent-company Chrysler’s bankruptcy and subsequent purchase by Italian automaker Fiat in 2009. The automaker pulled their support for NASCAR’s truck series in 2008 – which had been a showcase for their popular-selling Dodge RAM truck – and cut back their support for Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series teams.
In recent years Dodge’s performance in the racetrack has been overshadowed by Toyota, who began by dominating in the truck series before moving to Sprint Cup in 2007.

In 2012, Dodge began campaigning the Dodge Challenger in the Nationwide Series to promote the re-styled muscle car to compete against the Ford Mustang. It was expected that with the introduction for the Chevrolet Camaro in the Nationwide Series in 2013 that the Nationwide Series would become a battleground for the pony cars.
But while the automaker seemed to be on stable financial ground, it was rumored that Fiat wasn’t enthusiastic about NASCAR, and Penske’s departure finally signaled the death-knell for the stalwart brand, even though just days after Penske’s announcement Dodge rather sheepishly unveiled their proposed 2013 Sprint Cup car and expressed hope that another team would step up to put the car in competition in 2013.

Unfortunately, it appears that car will never see the racetrack.

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