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Bowles-Eye View: Charging Into the Future, a Look at Dodge’s Top Targets for 2013

As Dodge prepares to reveal its NASCAR future, the 2013 Cup Series Charger Sunday at Las Vegas (March 11), they’re also wagering a multimillion-dollar gamble on the racing roulette wheel. Despite years of development, the manufacturer is still jilted from being left at the short-term altar by Roger Penske, leaving them with a roster of start-and-park Robby Gordon Motorsports and … and … that’s about it.

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Can the organization find a new top-tier team to survive? One option would be to delve back into primary sponsorship; longtime NASCAR supporters might remember their two-car backing of Evernham Motorsports. It was the best way for the manufacturer’s flagship program to develop, spending a year-and-a-half working behind the scenes before coming out, guns blazing to win the Daytona pole in 2001.

But will they be willing to spend that kind of money, which today could run them upwards of $40 million to kickstart a competitive operation?

One alternative option is to poach another team, preferably with an engine shop so the Arringtons, a small-time operation aren’t the only ones building motors. Can it happen? Let’s run down the grid and take a quick look at the possibilities.

Hendrick Motorsports. Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving a Dodge? Umm, unthinkable. Remember, the current top-valued NASCAR organization has been Chevy-based since its arrival in the Cup Series in 1984. With six championships to their credit since 2001, why would you fix something that isn’t broken? Odds: You have a better shot of winning the lotto.

Stewart-Haas Racing. Hmm … reigning champ Tony Stewart, who got a sweetheart, long-term deal from Chevy to ditch Toyota for good driving a Charger? The same Stewart who has Danica Patrick in training, the best equipment being spoonfed from Hendrick and admittedly keeps costs down by not building his own engines, a necessity if Dodge were a serious option?

I just want someone to ask that question, preferably a media member untrained in Smoke’s tendency to blow off the answer just to see what Hall of Fame sarcastic answer they’d receive. Odds: Dodge has a higher possibility of securing LeBron to drive.

Roush Fenway Racing. Sure, Jack Roush can’t be thrilled to be sharing the Blue Oval limelight after being Ford’s top (and only) dog making chassis and engines for the past several years. But Penske could invigorate the whole RFR food chain, providing help and information while partnering alongside an organization that’s struggling for sponsorship to keep its own three cars afloat.

There’s a benefit to not having to carry the load all the time; and considering Roush’s long-term ties to Ford, which date back to the team’s Cup debut in 1988 don’t expect anything other than Fusions to roll out in 2013. Odds: The longest of longshots.

Joe Gibbs Racing. Coach Gibbs may have been loyal to the Redskins, but when it comes to his Cup cars, it’s another story altogether. Since 1992, he has already run three different brands of cars – Pontiacs, Chevys and Toyotas – even making his first switch in 2003 the year after winning a title. And while JGR stopped making their own engines this offseason, relying on Toyota Racing Development the resources and shop space are there to make it easy on Dodge.

But considering the tornado of changes there this offseason, along with steady sponsorship and Toyota’s branding of the team as their savior there’s no pressing reason to switch, either. Add in the team’s dominance in Nationwide, where their Camrys at one point were winning about once every other week and it’s going to take one heck of a check for them to consider it. Odds: I’d give it a 5% chance.

Richard Childress Racing. A GM loyalist, Childress has run their cars dating all the way back to when he was a driver in the ‘70s. Heck, GM Goodwrench was Dale Earnhardt’s primary sponsor during his last three championship seasons. So while it’s frustrating to be the bridesmaid, coming up second fiddle to Hendrick in the Chevy camp there’s too much history here to go elsewhere.

Also, keep in mind Dodge doesn’t give support to the Truck Series, where Richard’s grandson Ty will likely spend the next two seasons cutting his teeth. Family doesn’t let family drive a three-year-old junk of a model, right? Odds: Zero point zero zero zero zero zero … you get the picture.

Penske Racing. Just making sure you were paying attention. Next …

Michael Waltrip Racing. OK, now we’re talking possibilities. Waltrip has the name recognition; the advertising power (awful NAPA commercials notwithstanding) and the multi-car operation to give Dodge what they’re looking for in a potential replacement.

Within their three-car program, there’s also veteran Mark Martin, whose expertise even at 53 would be critical for a manufacturer implementing a major transformation. Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. are also potential stars in the making, but the biggest prize hasn’t even run in NASCAR’s top-three series yet.

If Travis Pastrana can keep himself in one piece, plus his foot on the gas the X Games star would be long-term gold to build branding for Dodge in all forms of motorsports. They’d likely need to invest in his future, but considering the paltry seven-race deal in place for the Nationwide program it could be the cash-laden incentive needed for MWR to make the jump – especially if all three teams miss the Chase for a sixth straight year. Odds: 25%.

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. This team is no stranger to Dodge, running for them from their return in 2001 until merging with Dale Earnhardt Inc. at the end of 2008. But their engine shop also partners with Childress, who will almost certainly not switch so breaking away would cost them money and horsepower in the short term.

Despite all that, considering their place in the Chevy pecking order, combined with an awkward 2012 start the Dodge solution makes some competitive sense. But I just don’t see it. Odds: 5%.

Richard Petty Motorsports. Petty. Dodge. The two words have the same amount of letters, and when put together roll off the tongue as easily as some of the King’s dominant 200 wins running those cars.

But while reuniting the two appears a no-brainer solution, one that co-investor Andrew Murstein has trumpeted, don’t count the chickens before they hatch. Remember, right now RPM, for all intents and purposes has neither an engine shop or their own chassis department. They’re simply a “B” team within the Roush Fenway umbrella, taking a small, two-car operation and refining equipment that’s already set up for them.

If Murstein and Co. wanted to spend the money it took to build their own shop, far away from RFR and jumpstart the extra operations it takes to claim independence they would have already done so. That means the price tag for Dodge is going to be high, especially considering the limited return on RPM investment to date; will they believe the Petty name still means that much?

And if neither car makes the Chase this season, with middling drivers Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose will it really be the best place for the manufacturer to spend its money? Odds: 50%. Not a slam dunk by any means.

JTG Daugherty Racing. An intriguing proposition considering the single-car program just moved back into their own shop. Armed with veteran Bobby Labonte, who’s driven a Dodge before, the team has mid-level sponsorship money and is looking to add a second car for 2013. What better way with sponsorship non-existent then by taking the bait, along with some extra cash from a desperate manufacturer? Odds: 30%. The darkhorse if Dodge is willing to spend.

Furniture Row Racing. Another organization that wants to expand, but an organization that’s also happy with their current chassis/engine partnership with Childress. It’s hard to see either side making the compromises need; Dodge would need to steer their program from Colorado while FRR would have to expand and/or risk regression for at least a year. Not happening, folks. Odds: 2%.

Phoenix Racing. Sweetheart deal with Hendrick would make it hard to leave Chevy. Marketing nightmare of Kurt Busch has Dodge saying “been there, done that.” Need we say more? Odds: Negative 100%.

FAS Lane Racing. No consistent driver or funding, combined with Roush offering them heavy discounts on equipment makes a switch virtually impossible. Odds: Zero chance.

Germain Racing. Their Truck Series operation is dead following a switch from Toyota to Ford, but I have a sneaky feeling the Germains are not the type to bail on that type of major change after only one season. Odds: 5%.

BK Racing. A bit of a wildcard, as this team’s new, enthusiastic owners have inked a sponsorship deal with Burger King already and are looking for any way to get ahead. They’ve got a promising young driver (Landon Cassill) combined with an underrated veteran (Travis Kvapil) that could step right in. But there’s no engine shop, the cost for Dodge is high and most importantly … do the names “Kvapil” and “Cassill” generate the buzz needed for the program? Odds: 15%.

Tommy Baldwin Racing. That partnership with Stewart-Haas to keep Danica in the Top 35 is also helping this team survive in a business sense. They know where their bread is buttered. Odds: About as good as another jet dryer fire in the future, leaving Dave Blaney randomly in the lead for a future Daytona 500.

Front Row Motorsports. This three-car operation needs to start-and-park one just to have enough cash to keep going. And if Dodge isn’t reaching out to rescue Gordon, well, I don’t think they’re entering the business of saving cash-strapped programs anytime soon. Odds: Slim and none.

Jay Robinson, Inception, Phil Parsons Racing, R3, Rick Ware, NEMCO Motorsports. All of these programs either start-and-park so frequently, have problems raising cash or have never proven themselves on the Cup level. Not exactly a recipe for success, no matter who the manufacturer is. Odds: Does it matter?

As you can see, the pickings for Dodge aren’t exactly plentiful. At the same time, manufacturers are enjoying some of the strongest profits in recent history, even during this economic downturn. So will they step up to the plate, investing in one of the small-time options? NASCAR desperately needs a company like this one to stand out and say, “We believe in the future of the sport.”

You would hope this announcement for Sunday isn’t going to be for nothing, right? Otherwise, Penske’s defection is a sign of larger trouble.

About the author

Tom Bowles
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The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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