News & Media


Dodge pulling out of NASCAR at season's end

August 07, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

Manufacturer couldn't recover from Penske Racing leaving for Ford in 2013

Ralph Gilles, who heads up the Dodge Motorsports program that will be departing from NASCAR at the end of this season, admitted Tuesday the manufacturer was dealt a death blow in the sport last March when Penske Racing announced it was switching from Dodge to Ford in 2013.

Penske Racing currently fields two Dodge teams in the Sprint Cup Series and two Dodge teams in the Nationwide Series. Gilles said Penske's decision in March to dump Dodge for Ford beginning in 2013 "kind of caught us by surprise and we never really recovered."

Not surprising


Dodge's decision to leave NASCAR at the end of the season spawned disappointment among drivers who represent different carmakers.

Related: Penske Racing moves to Ford in 2013

Nonetheless, Gilles also said he did not want to disparage Penske Racing owner Roger Penske, nor place total blame on Dodge's departure from NASCAR on him.

"I don't want to put this all on Roger. Ford put a very good long-term deal in front of him. We were kind of in a review mode at the time," Gilles said.

Gilles -- whose official title is president and CEO, Street and Racing Technology (SRT) Brand and Motorsports -- said his team had continued working on finding a NASCAR partner and finalizing details to get the new 2013 Dodge Charger on the race track up until late last week. He said the decision to pull out of NASCAR came only last Friday.

"We're still kind of in a shock-and-awe moment right now. You have no idea how much we feel the pain," Gilles said.

Gilles said he understands what many race fans loyal to the Dodge brand are experiencing right now. Dodge returned to NASCAR in 2001 after a 24-year hiatus and added Penske Racing to its fold in 2003.

"I just want to take all the Dodge fans and give them a big hug. I wish we could all have a beer together," Gilles said. "We feel for you. We love motorsports, love everything about it. It is with a heavy, heavy heart that we do this. We are just as devastated as our fans are. ... Unfortunately, the house of cards fell apart."

In the end, Gilles said there simply was not enough time for Dodge to find a competitive team willing to work with them going forward -- or to switch to them from alliances already forged with one of the other three manufacturers involved in NASCAR (Toyota and Chevrolet, in addition to Ford).

"Some of the teams we were talking to weren't even sure what they wanted to do," Gilles said. "Even back in March, it was getting late for deciding what you are going to do for the next season and getting everything into place. And no one is going to wait on you. If you're not ready, they're going to move on without you."

That scenario left Dodge looking at possibly throwing all its NASCAR resources at a mid-level team, which then would have had to compete against the likes of not only Penske Racing but also Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. Gilles noted how long it took Penske Racing to become a championship contender after switching to Dodge and said the manufacturer ultimately found that scenario unacceptable.

"We're in the sport to win. We didn't want to just show up," Gilles said.

Gilles did not completely rule out returning to NASCAR at a later date, but did not seem very optimistic about it. Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO, praised Dodge for its involvement in the sport and said he hoped it might return sometime down the line.

"We're still kind of in a shock-and-awe moment right now. You have no idea how much we feel the pain."

--RALPH GILLES

"Dodge has been a great partner to NASCAR for many years, and they have been part of numerous memorable moments throughout our history," France said. "They made a business decision not to return in 2013, as they did in 1977 before returning in 2001. We wish them well and hope they again will choose to return to NASCAR at a later date."

Dodge has left NASCAR before -- the manufacturer pulled out in 1977 and then returned to great fanfare in 2001, with former three-time championship crew chief Ray Evernham leading the company's effort. That incarnation of Dodge has won 50 races, with Penske leading the way with 29 under the company's banner.

Dodge's parent company, Chrysler, went through a government-backed Chapter 11 reorganization during the recent economic recession and resurfaced in an alliance with Italian automaker Fiat, which now owns a majority of the company. Under Fiat's stewardship, Dodge has increased its participation in other forms of motorsports such as sports-car racing.

Its NASCAR program, though, has gradually dwindled in size in recent years. Evernham Motorsports, which won 13 races under the Dodge nameplate, eventually morphed into Gillett-Evernham Motorsports, which won a pair of events. That team was eventually bought by the ownership group of Richard Petty Motorsports, which fields Fords. Petty Enterprises raced Dodges from 2001-08 before becoming part of the current RPM.

The petroleum company Valvoline owned and sponsored a race car that was operated out of the Evernham shop and fielded as a Dodge in 2006-2007. Chip Ganassi and co-owner Felix Sabates also used Dodges from 2001-2008, winning six times with the manufacturer before moving to Chevrolet in a merger with the motorsports branch of Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Gilles added the manufacturer will continue to fully support the Dodge teams currently being fielded by Penske Racing through the 2012 season. That includes the No. 2 Dodge driven by Brad Keselowski that has won three races this season and sits in seventh in the Sprint Cup Series points standings, as well as the No. 12 Dodge driven by Sam Hornish Jr. that sits fourth in the Nationwide Series standings. Hornish also recently replaced AJ Allmendinger as driver of the No. 22 Dodge that runs in the Cup Series.

"All of our efforts are now going to be behind Brad and Sam. And we're really doing well," Gilles said. "I'm really proud of what Brad has been able to do in terms of his consistency in the last year and a half. It would be a fairytale ending to go out on [a championship] note."