Dodge to return to NASCAR (9th Update)

UPDATE This rumor is downgraded to 'speculation' today. It was ostensibly a press conference for Ferrari’s 2016 Finali Mondiali at Daytona International Speedway last December 4, but perhaps the biggest revelation to come out of that presser concerned NASCAR, with Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, saying he was interested in getting Chrysler, most likely Dodge, back into NASCAR.

This came as a surprise to Dodge employees at the highest level. But given Marchionne’s revelation, the company did its due diligence, researching what a return to NASCAR would involve. Company executives met with NASCAR officials more than once, including a meeting at this year’s North American International Auto Show.

After all, it was Marchionne who in 2012 made the decision to pull the plug on NASCAR, leaving the Sprint Cup series with just three manufacturers: Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota. He said during that press conference that, at the time, he was trying to balance the books at Chrysler and NASCAR was an expense he could not justify. That said, Dodge had only a two-car team with Roger Penske, and won the season championship with Brad Keselowski.

Dodge had a deal with Andretti Autosport to take over Dodge in 2013, but that stalled with Marchionne’s final decision.

Marchionne said at the Ferrari press conference that the books are balanced, and it may be time to come back.

“I had dinner with Jim France last night," Marchionne said, referring to the executive vice president of NASCAR, “and we discussed the possibility."

Unfortunately for Dodge loyalists, the analysis regarding a return to the sport showed that it would be too complex and, more importantly, too expensive. Part of the problem would be finding a team with top-tier engine-building capability–and there just aren’t many choices now that the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series has consolidated engine-building among a handful of teams (Or in Toyota’s case, the company itself.) Dodge would prefer to supply the engine specifications and have the engines built by the team, like they were at Penske. But there are minimal options.

Also, re-creating the infrastructure to race at NASCAR’s highest level–which Dodge did gradually starting with the NASCAR Camping World truck series before entering the Cup series in 2001 with the help of then-flush Dodge dealers–would be prohibitively expensive. The bottom line: perhaps the company could afford to return to NASCAR, as Marchionne suggested, but that doesn’t mean it would make financial sense.

Dodge left NASCAR on top, as they did when they dropped the Dodge Viper program from the American Le Mans Series immediately after winning a season championship. The company has now reallocated its motorsports support to the National Hot Rod Association, where Dodge- and Mopar-backed teams are doing well in Funny Car and Top Fuel.

Like he did in 2012, Marchionne could conceivably overrule the recommendation that Dodge not return to NASCAR, but that seems unlikely. Nor is Volkswagen, which came very close to fielding a Cup car based on the Passat, likely to reconsider its decision to not join the series. And for those holding out hope that Honda/Acura might race in NASCAR–always a very abstract possibility–that became more of a long shot this week when Roger Penske and Acura announced they would race in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series, the NASCAR-affiliated sports car -sanctioning body.

So unless a manufacturer comes out of left field with the money and dedication to make a NASCAR program work, it appears that NASCAR will have to make do with Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota. As one Dodge employee suggested: “We don’t want to come back and embarrass ourselves." The Drive

03/14/17 The rumblings about a new manufacturer entering Cup haven't quieted since Dodge's multiple meetings in the offseason with NASCAR. This past weekend, there was garage buzz that 1) Dodge might be moving down the road with a team; and 2) there could be another manufacturer interested.

Is the debut of a new automaker in Cup imminent?

It would seem unlikely given the lead time required and the approvals needed by NASCAR. As a guest on this week's NASCAR on NBC podcast, Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson said … it would likely be 2019 at the earliest that it could be possible. NBC Sports

According to AR1.com sources, Dodge is returning to NASCAR with Chip Ganassi
According to AR1.com sources, Dodge is returning to NASCAR with Chip Ganassi

02/01/17 A top NASCAR engine builder said Tuesday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Dodge could race the Daytona 500 in 2018 "if they really wanted to be there."

In an interview on "The Morning Drive" with hosts Pete Pistone and Lee Spencer, Roush Yates Engines CEO and president Doug Yates said Dodge retains a relevant for blueprint for a Cup Series engine from five years ago. The manufacturer exited NASCAR after winning the 2012 championship with Brad Keselowski.

"Obviously, I'm not as close on the car and other aspects, but from an engine perspective, the engine they had in 2012, we had the same FR9 engines racing then," Yates said.

"Obviously, there (have) been many years of development in between, and they would have some catching up to do, but the base engine is probably OK."

In December at Daytona International Speedway, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters he thought the Dodge brand (owned by Chrysler) possibly could return to NASCAR. Marchionne said he had dinner with NASCAR vice chairman Jim France and International Speedway Corp. CEO Lesa France Kennedy. The Drive reported that NASCAR and Dodge executives met at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this month.

There are major hurdles to clear for Dodge to return. Fiat Chrysler could face EPA sanctions for diesel emissions and accompanying massive fines, and its year-over-year U.S. sales for light cars and trucks fell 10 percent in December. The manufacturer also would need to either find a new or existing team partner and shoulder some massive startup costs. NBC Sports

01/11/17 This rumor is upgraded to 'strong' today. According to exclusive inside AR1.com sources Dodge is definitely returning to the NASCAR Monster Energy Drink series, and their first team will be Chip Ganassi Racing.

Be it IndyCar or NASCAR, Chip Ganassi has never been afraid to change manufacturers to try and get a competitive edge. Stay tuned as we follow this story to maturity.

01/11/17 On December 4 of last year, Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which is the parent of Dodge, said with substantial conviction that he wants to get Dodge back into NASCAR. "Yes, I'd love to," he said.

"I talked to Jim France (executive vice-president of NASCAR) about this just last night." Marchionne made those statements at Daytona International Speedway during a press conference during the Ferrari Finali Mondiali, the annual gathering of Ferrari racers and fans. Ferrari is owned by the company Marchionne runs. Dodge left NASCAR in 2012, the year Dodge won the title with Penske driver Brad Keselowski. Penske moved to Ford at the end of the season, and Dodge pulled the plug on its NASCAR program.

Until now, there hasn't been much news about the possible reconciliation, until now: Monday morning, during the main press day of the North American International Auto Show (in Detroit), NASCAR and Dodge executives had a private meeting. Among those present was NASCAR President Mike Helton and Tim Kuniskis, whose title is Head of Passenger Car Brands, which includes Dodge. Of course, it could have been a casual how-ya-doing meeting, but given the brutal schedule for all automotive executives on Monday at the Detroit show, that seems unlikely. The Drive

12/23/16 Ray Evernham believes a return by Dodge to NASCAR competition would be good for the sport. Earlier this month at the Ferrari Finali Mondiali at Daytona International Speedway, officials from the manufacturer hinted in recent days that Chrysler was considering coming back to NASCAR racing after stepping away in 2012.

The possibility triggered much buzz around the NASCAR world including with Evernham, who fielded a two car Cup team between 2001-2007 before departing as a team owner. After Evernham closed his doors, Dodge continued in the sport until the end of the 2012 season when the manufacturer's business challenges forced an exit from NASCAR competition. If Dodge were to return, Evernham believes it would be a good thing for NASCAR.

"To me the more manufacturers that come in it shows that NASCAR can provide a global environment, a global opportunity for any manufacturer," Evernham said. "Hopefully Dodge will come back again. You can't fault them because they had financial issues. The fact that they are looking to come back says they never really wanted to leave. The more manufacturers that put money into this sport and make our racing economy better, if you will, is better for everybody." Although Evernham remains proud of the effort his team gave under the Dodge umbrella and wishes success to a future should the manufacturer come back to NASCAR.

"There isn't anything better for NASCAR to remain healthy and grow stronger than participation from the automobile manufacturers," he said. "Dodge has a long history in the sport and I'm sure they'd like nothing more than to be able to come back and add to that history. I'm hoping it happens." Motor Racing Network

We suspect Marchionne was blowing smoke up NASCAR's arse because he was in Daytona this past weekend and wanted to be nice
We suspect Marchionne was blowing smoke up NASCAR's arse because he was in Daytona this past weekend and wanted to be nice

12/06/16 Former NASCAR crew chief Ray Evernham said it is "great to see interest back from Chrysler" about a possible return of Dodge to the sport, according to Ken Willis of the Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL.

Evernham said, "What's exciting to me about this, [Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne] has for some reason come around to believe NASCAR is a great marketing tool. To me, that's as big a pat on the back as NASCAR can get right now, at a time when we need it"
Evernham in '99 left as Jeff Gordon's crew chief to "become a team owner" and from '01-07 was "part of Chrysler’s return to NASCAR’s top level with the Dodge Intrepid." Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL

12/06/16 Any manufacturer wanting to come into NASCAR for the 2017 season would have had to make a formal request by September 2015. The current NASCAR rules require race-car renderings for new models to be submitted by more than a year before they ever are raced on the track.

The deadline is Oct. 1 (more than 15 months before the actual debut), if the production car is already in production, and Jan. 1 (13 months before the debut), if the production car will start being sold in the year the Cup model debuts.

A full-scale race car must be submitted to NASCAR by April 1 prior to the year of debut. To accomplish those tasks, an incoming manufacturer likely would have to hire some top personnel away from current NASCAR teams, and that has yet to happen. ESPN

12/05/16 NASCAR vice president of marketing and communications David Higdon commented: "There is increasing excitement around NASCAR. We continue to have on-going dialog with a number of auto manufacturers about their interest in joining our sport. We look forward to exploration with them on this topic."

Sergio Marchionne
Sergio Marchionne

12/05/16 Sergio Marchionne, who is the CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, said he spoke with NASCAR vice-chairman Jim France and International Speedway Inc. CEO Lesa France Kennedy about the return of Dodge to the stock-car series. The three had dinner Saturday night during the Ferrari Finali Mondiali at Daytona International Speedway.

Marchionne, who is also CEO of Ferrari, was in town for the Ferrari-only World Finals and Sunday's Formula One exhibition. Asked about the return to NASCAR, Marchionne said, "Yes," then explained it.

"I talked to Jim France about this (Saturday) night," he said. "I was the one who made the decision to pull out of NASCAR. I am the guilty party at the table. In 2009, we came out of bankruptcy and tried to race NASCAR (but) with the big bills and make payroll was a stretch. We are in a different place now. I think it is possible we can come back to NASCAR. I think we need to find the right way to come back in, but I agreed with both Jim and Lesa we would come back to the issue."

France confirmed that he had spoken to Marchionne about bringing Dodge back into NASCAR's top series. Daytona Beach News Journal

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