Penske Racing is going back to its roots and reuniting with Ford beginning next season, leaving the Dodge brand without a team in NASCAR's top series as it prepares for a the unveiling of its 2013 race car.
Penske on Thursday caused a major shakeup in the manufacturer alignments on the Sprint Cup tour when it announced a long-term partnership with Ford, with whom it had previously raced from 1994-2002. Although Roger Penske's team had played a role in developing Dodge's new race car, the organization was the only team carrying that carmaker's flag in NASCAR's premier division, and felt the need to move on to better position itself to win a Sprint Cup crown.
"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," Penske said in a conference call. "... 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."
Penske has won 68 races since he first began fielding cars in NASCAR's premier circuit in 1972, but never a championship in the sport's top division. Next year, he said his team would field two Sprint Cup programs in the 2013 Fusion and two Nationwide programs in the Mustang, with the option to eventually move one of those Nationwide teams up to Sprint Cup once things stabilize. Penske's contract with Dodge, with whom it has been affiliated since 2003, ends after this season.
All four manufacturers that compete on the Sprint Cup tour are redesigning their cars for the 2013 season to provide them with more individual brand identity, and Penske cited commitments that needed to be made in that direction as the reason for the timing of the announcement. Penske will continue to field Dodges through the remainder of 2012, but beginning next season it will team with longtime Ford stalwart Roush Fenway Racing to give the blue oval brand a powerful one-two punch.
"This was a milestone opportunity, given what Roger has accomplished over decades in motorsports," said Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing. "He's a captain of industry, he's a member of the community. Given our past relationship with him, his standard of excellence -- all those forces came into play. With the alignment happening with the contractual agreements and the arrival of 2013, you put all those planets, and they all align at a single moment in time, and you have in front of you this opportunity that we are very thrilled about."
Penske's departure is a serious blow to Dodge, given that the carmaker isn't affiliated with any other teams on NASCAR's top level. The manufacturer is slated to unveil its 2013 Charger before next week's race in Las Vegas, but as of now has no team to field that vehicle next year.
"Dodge has enjoyed a successful partnership with Penske Racing for 10 years. It's a partnership that has produced results for both parties on and off the track," Ralph Gilles, president of Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology brand -- which includes the Dodge nameplate -- said in a statement.
"Roger has made a business decision to accept an offer with another manufacturer. We wish Roger and Penske Racing much success in the future. We are committed to work with Penske Racing to compete at the highest level, win races and contend for championships this season. Our motorsports involvement isn't limited to NASCAR. We do value our NASCAR program and will be evaluating the opportunities available moving forward. As those opportunities materialize, we'll reveal our 2013 plans, not only in NASCAR but in other forms of motorsports."
Penske officials often sang the praises of being the lone Dodge operation, claiming that it granted them a level of attention and resources that other teams in more crowded manufacturer lineups had to fight for. Now, it's clear that Penske is in need of a manufacturer stable mate against which it can compare itself, particularly in an era of satellite affiliations that allow some teams to do more with less.
"Let me say this, this wasn't about money, and I want to make that clear," Penske said. "I think that we evaluated, when you look at the strengths of the teams in NASCAR, the multiple-car teams, the success that Stewart-Haas had, the alignment with Hendrick, also with Gibbs and Waltrip and the teams that were out there ... we've been operating pretty much for the last 10 years with some support ... but we needed to have a benchmark. And I think having that additional technical information flow through the process, as Ford has outlined it to us, I think was very important to us."
The question now becomes whether Penske will built its own engines, given that the Roush-Yates consortium currently builds power plants for all Ford-affiliated teams -- which for the moment also includes Richard Petty Motorsports and the Wood Brothers, the latter of which runs a limited schedule. Penske said he has 70 people in his engine shop, and that his teams have always built their own engines, and was noncommittal on whether he'd eventually turn that task over to another operation.
"We have a commitment to our people in the engine shop, we've got a big investment in ... dynos and other things," he said. "This is something we'll take a good look at. What I like is, we'll be able to benchmark our Penske engines against the best in the business at Roush-Yates."
The NASCAR landscape has changed since Penske joined forces with Dodge a decade ago. Mergers and subsequent contraction led two other once-prominent Dodge teams, Evernham Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing, to be folded into other operations -- the former eventually morphed into Ford's Richard Petty Motorsports, the latter Chevrolet's Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. It all combined to leave Penske standing alone, and swayed by a rival carmaker that promised it something more.
"We had a great relationship with Dodge," Penske said. "We'll continue to commit 150 percent to what we need to do. There was no disincentive for Penske Racing not to be the best in 2012. I think at this particular time, as we assessed the options -- and this was not something that came up overnight -- we had a relationship with Ford before, and I think at the end of the day we felt this was an option we couldn't turn down."