News & Media

Drivers disappointed by Dodge's departure

August 07, 2012, David Caraviello,

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Four race teams representing three manufacturers descended on Martinsville Speedway on Tuesday for a test of Sprint Cup cars to be used beginning with the 2013 season. Among the carmakers, there was one notable absence -- and soon enough, everyone learned why.

Dodge announced Tuesday that it is withdrawing from NASCAR competition at the conclusion of this season, ending a revival of the nameplate that began with the company's return to major stock-car competition in 2001. With Penske Racing, the carmaker's only current team affiliation, moving to Ford beginning in 2013, Dodge boss Ralph Gilles said the manufacturer "couldn't develop the right structure" to remain in the sport.

Dodge getting out

Despite unveiling a 2013 Charger for the upcoming race season, Dodge is pulling out of NASCAR after 2012, ending a partnership that dates back to 2001.

Dodge's looming departure was evident at Martinsville, where representatives of Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota gathered for a shakedown of the vehicles that will be used on NASCAR's premier series beginning next season. Although the carmaker previously had unveiled a model it intended to use in 2013, it was absent from the test because it wasn't prepared for the two-day session.

Gilles said the decision to leave NASCAR was made Friday, and it spawned disappointment among even drivers who represent different carmakers.

"I can remember when they came into the sport, kind of guns blazing with a big program," said Martin Truex Jr., who drives a Toyota. "I guess it really wasn't that long ago in NASCAR terms. I guess they haven't been around that long. So it's kind of strange to see them go. I know there are a lot of teams out there that could use some factory help, some smaller teams that put a lot of effort into growing their programs and showing up every week, staying in the top 35 and doing all those things, and you'd think they'd deserve some support. That would have been a good option for them. But obviously, it had to do with some financial stuff, and hopefully they'll get that resolved and come back."

A winner of 50 races since its return to the Cup series in 2001, Dodge at one point supported four organizations, but its fleet was whittled away over time by team closure and consolidation. The manufacturer currently backs just two cars on the Sprint Cup tour, the Penske Racing entries of Brad Keselowski and Sam Hornish Jr. -- drivers who next season will be piloting Fords.

"There's only two Dodges out there now, so to say it's going to affect the racing, I think, would be silly," Truex said. "If there were eight or 10 of them, like there are Chevrolets, it would be a huge deal. The fact that there's only two, I don't think it's going to change a whole lot."

Absent from NASCAR between 1977 and 2001, Dodge returned to NASCAR with three-time championship crew chief Ray Evernham spearheading its program, and it made an almost immediate impact. Over time, though, affiliated teams like Evernham Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and Petty Enterprises all moved toward other manufacturers as part of a financially driven restructuring of the sport. Chrysler, Dodge's parent company, also went through a government-backed Chapter 11 reorganization during the recent economic recession, resurfacing as a holding of Italian automaker Fiat.

"I've never driven a Dodge, but when you look at the limited number of teams they've had in the past, you had to feel like this was something that was coming," Chevrolet driver Jeff Gordon said in a conference call with reporters. "They're not growing within the sport with more teams. They were getting less and less. I'm sure Penske was questioning that commitment and being the only ones with a Dodge out there. I guess it's not a huge surprise to me, but it is unfortunate, because you want to see as many manufacturers, especially somebody like Dodge that has a heritage in our sport ... to look at this sport and know that this is something they have to be a part of."

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson agreed.

"I hate to hear that," he said during a break in testing at Martinsville. "I guess we knew with just Penske running the Dodge that the writing was kind of on the wall. But definitely didn't want to see that happen."

Tuesday's announcement seemed a very long way from the Dodge heyday with Richard Petty, or even its promising years with Evernham in the last decade. But the company did leave and return once -- and Carl Edwards wouldn't rule out the manufacturer doing the same thing again.

"At the end of the day, every company, corporation or person has to do what's best for them," said Edwards, who drives a Ford. "If they decide this is what's best for their company right now, then I think that's what they need to do. I have a feeling that they'll be back. There's a reason so many people market in NASCAR and so many manufacturers are a part of it, because it's a great way to sell products to people and get the message out to people in a really fun and exciting way. So hopefully, they'll be back soon, but I wish them all the best in their business and hope whatever they're working on works out."