There’s soon to be one less bit of Americana in auto racing. In what could be the first symptom of the stock car league’s recently declining revenue, the domestic automaker will not be participating in the next season of NASCAR racing.
Dodge announced Tuesday that it would be exiting the league — in which its vehicles have taken 55 Sprint Cup victories since 2001 — after the conclusion of this 2012 season. Dodge has only worked with one NASCAR team since 2009, but when Penske Racing announced that they would be partnering with Ford for 2013, the Chrysler-owned brand was left scrambling for a new stock car showcase, Dodge racing boss Ralph Gilles told the Detroit Free Press.
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“We had a very, I would say, elegant situation with the Penske group, having a one-stop shop, an engine, everything — a very high-quality team to work with,” Gilles told the Free Press. “When that changed, the equation changed dramatically … it’s not as easy as you would think to configure a team at the level that we are accustomed to racing and at the level that we want to perform.”
With the exit of Dodge, Chrysler’s lone brand with a NASCAR presence, Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet are left to dominate the circuit. This relatively small field of corporate sponsors may underscore larger problems for NASCAR — which saw a 38 percent decrease in ticket sales revenue over the past five years, according to securities filings for NASCAR’s track owners.
”This is pretty huge,” former crew chief and current television analyst Larry McReynolds told the Associated Press. ”This isn’t years ago when NASCAR had several different manufacturers and if one had pulled out, it wouldn’t have been so noticeable. But in 2012, we only have four, and with one less this news doesn’t make the right statement about the sport. Anytime a major sponsor of any kind, whether a manufacturer, primary team sponsor or series sponsor packs up and goes home, it doesn’t look good for NASCAR.” Dodge suffered a huge blow to its ego when Penske pulled its partnership just after Dodge unveiled its new 2013 Charger race car after reportedly working for more than two years on its design.
The pain extends beyond Auburn Hills, though. ”It comes at a very bad time, and it’s a kick in the gut to loyal Dodge fans,” motorsports journalist Dave Despain explained to the AP. Those loyal Dodge fans may soon find themselves shopping for Fords, because, as the Free Press writes, “NASCAR fans are notoriously loyal to the brands of their favorite drivers.”
“We didn’t want this day to come,” Gilles told the Free Press of Tuesday’s announcement. “So, again, it’s with a heavy heart [we announce this.] I want to take all of our Dodge fans and give them a big hug, and we can have a beer together, because we are not excited about this, but it’s a reality of where we’re at right now.”