Friday, March 2, 2012

Penske Returns to Ford in 2013


NASCAR's Silly Season begins early as major team announces manufacturer change for next season.

Roger Penske announced that his NASCAR operations, two Sprint Cup and two Nationwide series teams will be switching from Dodge to Ford in 2013. This is the last year of Penske South’s contract with Chrysler Corporation to field Dodge entries.

Penske noted: When we weighted the plusses and minuses of the opportunity, it was apparent to us that we need to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. We have been trying to do it alone, but having the opportunity to benchmark with someone like Roush, who's been world-class, you could see the performance this past weekend with [Matt] Kenseth and how good their cars are. We thought it was time for us to evaluate other options."

The move ends Penske’s 10 year association with Dodge affecting the #2 Miller Lite Dodge Chargers driven by Brad Keselowski and the #22 Shell/Pennzoil A.J. Allmendinger car plus the two Dodge Challengers. Penske’s teams have been moderately successful with a Penske car securing at least one win each year since being associated with Chrysler; however, most of that success was with Ryan Newman before his departure to Stewart-Haas. With the contraction of NASCAR in recent years, Evernham and Petty’s merger then subsequent merger with Yates eliminated those Dodge entries for Fords while Chip Ganassi’s operation merged with DEI and ran Chevrolets. As such, that left Penske as the sole Dodge contender and not a true championship contender.  This left Penske with no other cars against which to benchmark his entries, a factor cited in his move to Ford, noting, “What I like is, we'll be able to benchmark our Penske engines against the best in the business at Roush-Yates." This assumes Penske, a fiercely independent competitor, continues to build his own engines and does not purchase them from Roush.

Where this leaves Dodge is uncertain. They are working on a 2013 version of the next generation race car, but unless an existing team or teams switch to Dodge, that appears unlikely given that Petty’s move to Ford was in association with merging with a strong Ford presence and too the extent that Ganassi’s operation promotes the Earnhardt brand, Chevrolet is intimately associated with that manufacturer. All other strongly competitive teams have strong ties with their manufacturers and are not likely to change with Hendricks, Richard Childress, Stewart/Haas and Earnhardt-Ganassi solidly in the Chevrolet camp. Michael Waltrip Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing appear solidly Toyota. Ford would then expand to Roush/Fenway, Richard Petty, and now Penske. Beyond that, other teams at this point are a long distance off from strong competition and that one entry switching to Dodge would suddenly become prime competition – the drivers, the facilities, and technical expertise simply are not there.

Roger Penske raced Fords from 1994 to 2002 during most the heyday of Rusty Wallace’s career, perennial championship contender up against the likes of Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon. The #12 car emerged as a second entry with some success first with Jeremy Mayfield and then Ryan Newman, who at this point had his greatest success with Penske.


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