Dodge will exit sport at end of year

Dodge is pulling out of NASCAR after the 2012 season.

Without a competitive organization to carry the Dodge banner or a stout engine program to power the cars, there was simply no reason to contend against the powerhouses in NASCAR with a start-up program.

“Following our thorough five-month-long process of evaluating all options for our future involvement in the sport, we’ve decided to withdraw from NASCAR competition at the end of the 2012 season,” said Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of Street and Racing Technology Brand and Motorsports for the Chrysler Group LLC. “On the announcement by Penske Racing on March 1, we set up a detailed evaluation process to determine who our perspective partners could be and, specifically, what the future would hold for us on and off the track.

“We were initially pleased to see the vast amount of interest from multiple teams and sponsors that came our way with a lot of interesting packages and ideas. Look at this process as a multi-piece puzzle. It’s very difficult as capacities have shrunk dramatically over the years in the NASCAR world. We couldn’t, unfortunately, put together a structure that made sense to continue our business and competitive objectives for next year. . . . Our team worked diligently to pull this together and in the end, we couldn’t develop the right structure.”

Certainly Penske Racing’s decision in February to jump from Dodge to Ford contributed to the decision. Gilles acknowledges that Penske’s decision “caught us by surprise and we have not recovered since.” Penske offered Dodge the perfect “boutique” operation — a factory-backed program with two cars and initially championship caliber drivers.

“We invested even more in racing, and I think there might have been, to be very honest with you, from late last year to the beginning of this year . . . a bit of a revaluation of NASCAR, and a decision at the time was to invest in NASCAR,” Gilles said. “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 the decision was made to go with Ford, and so unfortunately that happened.”

Dodge returned to NASCAR competition after a 23-year absence in 2000 under the guidance of championship crew chief Ray Evernham. Since then, the organization earned one Nationwide Series title with Penske Racing‘s Brad Keselowski in 2010 and 55 Sprint Cup wins, including two Daytona 500 victories with a variety of teams.

“Dodge has been a great partner to NASCAR for many years, and they have been part of numerous memorable moments throughout our history,” said Brian France, NASCAR’s chairman and CEO. “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.

“Our fans have a passion for cars and emotional connections to particular manufacturers, and that’s why in 2013 we will debut new race car designs that are modeled after each manufacturer’s production cars. This change is a direct result of feedback from our fans, who are the most brand loyal in all of sports.”

Gilles said the decision was not financially based. He said SRT was investing “more than ever before trackside” and the company was happy with the leads it received in return.

He also felt the steps that NASCAR took to transform the current models from the “generic” car of tomorrow to the sportier pony cars in the Nationwide Series and templates closer to production cars in Sprint Cup rectified some of their issues.

At this time, Gilles hasn’t decided whether independent teams could carry on the Dodge nameplate without factory support, but he felt the prospect was “relatively doable.” As to whether Dodge would return at a future date should a top-tier organization became available, Gilles remained noncommittal.

“Right now we are still in kind of the shock-and-awe moment,” Gilles said “We are still trying to figure out what it means. Of course, we’ll never say never. Honestly, I can never look — no one in the room here wants to accept, never say never.

“But it’s really scarce right now. It’s a really tough situation in (NASCAR). If we did something like that, it would have to be quite a significant effort. So we’ll have to look at that. We’ll get back to you as our plans unfold but for now we are just talking about ’13.”

SRT Motorsports recently ramped up its involvement with the Dart in Global RallyCross, and the Viper GTS-R made its first return to the American Le Mans Series since 2000 last weekend at Mid-Ohio. The GTS-Rs will run a limited schedule in 2012 to prepare for a full campaign with two factory-backed teams next year.

Gilles said he’s felt “the pain” from the fans. He knows the supporters “are really passionate and emotional about it and we don’t take the decision lightly.” Ultimately, the decision came from the “committee level” and wasn’t made until last Friday, according to Gilles.

“The committee has looked at this very carefully,” Gilles said. “The whole thing was very complex, more complex than we thought at first to try to put something together again at the level that we liked to be at. It wouldn’t make sense to try and hurry a situation. Some of these things take months and months to put together.”