For the past several years, Dodge/Mopar fans have been wondering will Dodge return to National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) competition. The manufacturer left the racing series after clinching the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup (now Monster Energy Cup) with Brad Keselowski and his Penske Miller Lite Dodge Charger team. Since then, NASCAR has gone through several changes which have caused a backlash among its fans. So let’s break down the facts from the rumors of the whole NASCAR/Dodge debacle.
During the 2012 season, Penske Racing (Dodge’s only factory supported team) went into talks about extending their partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and their Dodge brand for sponsorship after the season was over. During that time, Penske along with SRT engineers were working on the all-new GEN 5 Dodge Charger stock car for the following season. Roger Penske wanted FCA to give his race team a multi-year contract at the time. However, FCA would only go by a year-to-year contract basis with the team.
It wasn’t long after that a deal couldn’t be reached, Penske announced they were switching back to Ford for the 2013 Sprint Cup season. This lead to an awkward unveiling of the 2013 Dodge Charger stock car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway only a week and a half after Penske announcing the switch to Ford. Leaving Dodge with a team to carry the brand into the next season.
As the 2012 season progressed and it was made clear that Brad Keselowski had a real shot at winning the championship. FCA and SRT poured money and support to help the team achieve that goal. While behind closed doors, they were talking to teams about joining their NASCAR program. The issue was that Dodge needed a team that could not only race their cars but could build their new Charger and take care of the engine building for their program as well.
At that time rumors were going around that Richard Childress Racing (RCR) was in talks with Dodge. As one of the marque Chevrolet teams, the team had fallen behind Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing and Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing on the totem pole of factory support from the manufacturer. The team also had a significant engine program that not only built motors for other race teams but for other series as well. According to rumors, a deal could not be put in place, and Dodge was forced to withdraw from competition without a team representing them.
Since then, many privateer teams have bought old Penske Dodge cars and have raced them in the Nationwide series. It is still common to see a Dodge Challenger Nationwide car appear once in a while at tracks like Daytona or Talladega.
As of recently, both NASCAR and FCA have made comments about the probability of doing business together. Apparently, NASCAR Vice President Mike Helton, Tim Kuniskis, then Head of Passenger Cars for FCA and Sergio Marchionne then CEO of FCA, had breakfast at the 2017 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) to discuss the possibility of Dodge rejoining NASCAR. It was rumored that FCA executives had even attended a NASCAR Cup race at Michigan International Speedway that year, but nothing public has been said about either event from either side.
Rumor mills started to buzz again when word that Richard Petty Motorsports would form an alliance with RCR for the 2018 NASCAR season. Petty, a name surrounded by motorsports pedigree with the Dodge name attached to it, attracted a lot of attention to the press when it announced the alliance. A team that Dodge had been rumored to be in talks with and a former Dodge team raised a bunch of questions for motorsports fans. However, nothing related to the Dodge brand has been publicly spoken by either side.
What we are hearing is that FCA has pulled the plug currently on its return to NASCAR. Our sources are stating several reasons behind that move. First, is popularity. NASCAR has lost over half of the viewership it had from the early 2000s. Many of the fans were upset about the constant changing of the rules and the Points Chase in the Cup series. Some fans say that the design of the current cars does not allow the exciting racing as past seasons. There are many reasons why depending on who you talk to, why NASCAR has lost its flare over the past decade.
Television viewership isn’t the only problem with NASCAR popularity either. Many fans have quit going to the tracks. A massive drop in attendance has forced many tracks to get rid of grandstands that were put up in during the early 2000s. Some of the most popular tracks on the series like Daytona, Charlotte and Las Vegas have eliminated seating areas.
The most important issue that we are hearing why FCA isn’t returning as of yet, is the overall cost to operate a race team for the Cup series. NASCAR was known as a blue-collar sport, where you would find the back third of the field filled with drivers with low-budget teams trying to catch a break. However, now it costs tens of millions to run a single team full-time in the Cup series.
Teams don’t just rely on one main sponsor anymore. You may see your favorite driver running four to eight different paint schemes featuring different companies a year. The cost has gotten so bad, that even last year’s championship team (Furniture Row Racing) is shutting its doors after this year because of the cost to operate the team. Lowes has even announced that it will pull its sponsorship from 7-time Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson after the 2018 season. The company has been Johnson’s sponsor for the past 18 years.
The last issue is ownership. Because of all the issues, NASCAR has faced over the last decade with viewership, attendance, and sponsors, rumors have been floating around for some time that the France family who currently owns a majority of the stock of NASCAR were going to sell the NASCAR brand. As of recently, sources are saying the France family will not sell their control over NASCAR. But rumors are still in the air of such a thing happening. It puts a lot of uncertainty on the sport and its sanctioning body. Especially when it was announced that the primary sponsor for the Cup series, Monster Energy was pulling their sponsorship after the 2019 season after a one-year-only extension.
Unfortunately, we don’t see Dodge returning to NASCAR anytime soon. Instead, the brand is putting more support into the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) funding. Being a brand known for it’s drag racing heritage, Dodge has put even more factory support over the past year with being the primary sponsors of two of the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teams (Leah Pritchett’s Top Fuel team and Matt Hagan’s Funny Car team), as well as providing associate sponsor support of four additional DSR teams and being the title sponsor of two events on the series schedule.
While Dodge could return to NASCAR, it could be a long time till we see it. Remember, Dodge returned to NASCAR’s premier series in 2001 after being out of NASCAR competition for 16 years. Until then, fans will have to watch the Mexican NASCAR Peak Mexico Series and Canadian Pinity Series for Dodge stock car action as both series have Dodge cars running in them.