Anne Proffit, Special to Motorsport.com
Say Arrivederci to Dodge and SRT Motorsports in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series. After months of conjecture – and after unveiling their 2013 Dodge at Las Vegas in March – SRT Motorsports’ president and CEO Ralph Gilles announced that the brand is departing both NASCAR series after being part of a four-manufacturer program since 2001, racing against Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota.
This decision wasn’t unexpected and had been in the Twitterverse for at least a week, but Gilles said that work had been ongoing with the new 2013 car as late as a few days ago. He expressed sadness for the fans – over and over again – and said, “We love motorsports, love everything about it. It is with a heavy, heavy heart that we do this.”
When Roger Penske set loose the cannon in late February, announcing he was returning his Penske Racing two-car Cup team to Ford for 2013 that presented both opportunities and difficulties for SRT and the Dodge brand. Penske Racing has been the only Dodge team in Cup and Nationwide, building its own engines for each series’ two-car Charger and Challenger teams, respectively.
With all the work that’s been done on the 2013 Charger thus far, it’s evident that SRT and Dodge didn’t want to get out of the game, but were unable to find partners to put together a program that made sense. The process began to evaluate possibilities as soon as Penske announced the team’s departure; Gilles said there was a vast amount of interest leading SRT to evaluate what was placed on the table.
SRT was unable to find a team that could compete to the level at which they currently run. “We measured data and were pleased with the response we got” from many different NASCAR entities. “We don’t just want to show up when we’re racing,” Gilles stressed. “We want to win.” But he knew, as anyone would, that you can’t compress time and set up a team to compete at this high level in the space of seven months.
The decision to withdraw from NASCAR came last Friday and Gilles said, “You have no idea how much we thought about it. This decision was not taken lightly and it was made at the committee level” – one would hope Gilles is a part of that committee. “We looked very carefully at our data. It’s very complex to put teams together at the level we needed,” he said.
At the end of 2011 SRT and Dodge could have pulled back but they moved forward, particularly with at-race marketing programs, increasing their presence from six to 22 races. “We measured our data and we’re pleased with the response we’ve gotten from our midway presence; we’re pleased with the PR and marketing structure.”
Dodge and SRT will continue to compete in American Le Mans Series (ALMS) GT competition, where the SRT Viper GTS-R debuted at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Saturday and will have its second outing on the Road America road course in another week and a half. SRT also has its Global RallyCross program with Travis Pastrana in a Dodge Dart and is leading the point standings in NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Pro Stock competition with Allen Johnson’s Mopar-sponsored Dodge Intrepid. None of those programs are affected by this decision.
After the announcement, NASCAR president Brian France weighed in with this comment: “Dodge has been a great partner to NASCAR for many years, and they have been part of numerous memorable moments throughout our history. They made a business decision not to return in 2013, as they did in 1977 before returning in 2001.” He also commented on the change of car bodies for 2013 and that decision’s impetus being fan-impacted.
Will SRT/Dodge come back to NASCAR? Gilles said, “Never say never. We’re still in that ‘shock and awe’ moment but there are tough situations in North Carolina. We had to find the right drivers, select the correct teams, shops and engine builder” after Penske’s defection. The SRT involvement through to the end of the season, he predicted, “will be even more intense.”
SRT has been working on their 2013 car for nearly two years and its development hadn’t slowed “until now. We hate to disappoint our fans. It would be hard to replace Roger and Penske Racing and that just sort of happened. There was no one to go with in the future and there’s a shrinking capacity out there in North Carolina. Our aero testing has been positive on both Charger and Challenger – and I don’t want to put it on Roger. This was a deal he couldn’t pass up.”
SRT’s goal is to “extract the most we can from racing and with sponsors not as flush as you think or as they used to be,” it became apparent a new car, new teams, drivers, engine builders, etc. just couldn’t happen. “We had to let people know as soon as possible and we’re not excited about this; it’s reality. We’ve got no commitments so we’re going to step back, take a deep breath and be fair to all involved, letting the dust settle.”
With Brad Keselowski and Sam Hornish Jr currently driving the two Penske Racing Dodge Charger entries in Sprint Cup (Keselowski is seventh) and Hornish Jr deep in a four-way fight in the Nationwide Series championship chase, SRT could be going out with a bang. “We are having a really consistent season and wouldn’t it be a Cinderella story to leave on a high note?”
Dodge has 215 wins overall in Sprint Cup Series competition and 55 since it re-entered in 2001; it has been represented in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup in seven of the past eight seasons.