Precede to this column: It's official. Dodge has withdrawn from NASCAR as of the end of 2012. Click here for the official video statement. However, the premise of my analysis still stands. If a team wants to lease the name, Dodge, from Chrysler Corp., and get a leg up on the competition in advance of the company returning to NASCAR, then a deal can surely be made. Meantime . . .
It’s always interesting to scan the headlines on numrous websites following a weekend of racing:
1. Katherine Legge returns as Dragon Racing gets back to two cars for Sonoma IndyCar race.
2. Lotus sure of stronger second half.
3. Furniture Row may switch to Dodge
My reaction to those three headlines is as follows:
1. Yippee. Can hardly wait.
2. Somebody better tell those guys that this is racing, and nothing is a guarantee.
So, let’s focus on No. 3.
General Motors, Ford and Toyota are committed to NASCAR racing in 2013. Dodge, not so much. In fact, Dodge has been sending signals for some time that it really doesn’t know what it’s going to do in NASCAR in 2013, if anything.
Just this weekend, Penske Racing’s Tim Cindric told reporters that up till a week ago, Penske and Dodge had been talking about Penske continuing to build engines for a Dodge entry in NASCAR next season, even though Penske announced months ago that the race team would be running Fords in 2013 and would get them from Roush-Yates.
But the Dodge engine option is officially gone now, Cindric said. He went on: "Relative to us, they said they’re going in a different direction. We don’t see there being any more potential on the NASCAR side with Dodge."
Now, when I say that some manufacturers are still committed, that doesn’t mean what it once did. Hundreds of millions of dollars of investment are now tens of millions – if that.
Dodge is owned by Chrysler which is owned by Fiat. The guy who runs Fiat is Sergio Marchionne and he looks at the whole, not just the parts. He’s a guy who’s very aware of every dollar and cent that’s spent anywhere in the company in the world.
He knows, for instance, that it doesn’t look good for Chrysler to ask its auto workers in one country to take a pay cut and then turn around and spend millions on a racing program in another, particularly if that racing program isn’t going to be successful.
You would think the folks at Furniture Row Racing would know that. But team general manager Joe Garone said that "if Dodge comes to us, and says here’s the right deal, then we would do it."
As I’m sure anybody would. . .
But I don’t really think that’s what’s going to happen.
As a friend of mine who’s very involved in automobile manufacturing says: "In Chrysler’s case, they want the whole deal taken off their hands and to be paid for it. In exchange, they will licence or lease out the Dodge name. If no one can do it that way, then that’s it."
(Norris note here: I would suggest that’s what Cindric was saying when he said "they are going in a different direction . . . and we don’t see there being any more potential." Translation: they want money and we ain’t payin’ . . .)
My friend continued:
"There’s as much money out there as ever before, it’s just being pushed in different directions. There isn’t the interest in NASCAR any more. NASCAR has had its day, the ROI (return on investment) is no longer there."
That doesn’t mean the end of NASCAR, or IndyCar, or whatever car. It just means the whole auto racing industry will have to get leaner, yet again, and to live much more within its means.
And to get along without manufacturer support.
Talking about living within your means, there’s a story on the speedtv.com site about Luis Perez-Sala, the new boss of the HRT Formula One team, and how everything was in disarray when he took over.
The first thing he did, apparently, was to move the team "into plush new headquarters" in Madrid.
The car might still stink, but the headquarters are plush and, like so much in F1 these days, that seems to be what counts.
Oh, and in the failed-drug-tests department, move over A.J., you've got company. Former F1 and IndyCar driver Thomas Enge has been banned for 18 months by the FIA for flunking a pee test. He was suspended once previously for using marijuana.
Weekend Results roundup:
– At Trois-Riveres, Que., D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas did not win the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race. That is big news, seeing as Kennington had won the five previous races in Canada’s only national racing series.
Andrew Ranger of Roxton Pond, Que., who has won the Trois-Rivieres race four times out of the last six, was first again this year, with L.P. Dumoulin finishing second in front of his hometown crowd and J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge coming home third. Kennington was fifth, behind Robin Buck of Campbellville.
The next outing for the NASCAR Canada series will be at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve Aug. 18 as part of the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the fabled circuit.
Also at Trois-Rivieres, Tristan Vautier won the Indy Lights race and Nick Wittmer of Hudson, Que.., won the new B-Spec class in the Canadian Touring Car Championship Series while Marc-Antoine Camirand won both Super Touring class races, with Paul Dargis and Alain Lauzier winning in Touring class.
– At the Mid-Ohio IndyCar race Sunday, James Hinchcliffe of Oakville drove a fine race to finish fifth (he had a poor qualifying session and went off 16th) and improved his place in the points standings. Montreal’s Alex Tagliani had another Top Ten finish. The race was won by Scott Dixon, with Will Power second and Simon Pagenaud third.
It was the second straight IndyCar race without a caution.
– Bad weather forced the cancellation of the elimination rounds at Toronto Motorsports Park on Sunday so drag racing fans who show up at Grand Bend Motoplex this coming weekend for the Stratford Spectacular Hot August Nationals will be in for a real treat.
In addition to a full program featuring the Pro Modified Racing Association, the Quick 32 Sportsman Series and the Pro Bike & Sled Series, the elimination rounds from TMP will be added.
Bruce Boland of Hamilton qualified No. 1 in the PMRA, Kevin Wicke of Stratford and James Lichty of Linwood led the Quick 32 qualifyers and Danny Staples of Ingersoll was No. 1 in the PBSS. All will be looking to extend their dominance at Grand Bend.
– Speaking of drag racing, two women made NHRA history at the weekend. Courtney Force won the Funny Car class and Erica Enders won in Pro Stock. It is the first time in the history of the NHRA that women finished first in two of the top four classes.
– The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be at Watkins Glen at the weekend for the second road race of the season (and, to my mind, there should be at least a half-dozen among the 36 races flagged off each season, instead of just two).
Bill France Jr. once told me that Watkins Glen is a "Canadian race," as are the ones at New Hampshire and Michigan. I guess that means since we’ve already got three, we won’t be getting any more anytime soon . . .
In any event, Jeff Gordon will be fresh off his "victory" at Pocono Raceway last Sunday, which was red-flagged and declared official just before the 100-lap mark because of rain. Kasey Kahne was second and Martin Truex finished third.
Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth were ahead on the restart but Johnson got sideways and pushed Kensenth up to the wall and Gordon, plus the rest, snuck past in the ensuing melee. Then the rains came.
Ron Fellows of Mississauga will be driving in the Nationwide Series race on Saturday, which will be a warmup for the Nationwide event at Montreal on Aug. 18. Of course, any time that Fellows climbs into a racing car, he’s at, or near, the front. So expect a show.
– Finally, the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series will be at Knoxville, Iowa, this coming weekend for the 52nd Knoxville Nationals. No word on whether Tony Stewart will be there but I guarantee you that the series regulars are crossing their fingers he’ll be too busy at the Glen to fly out or else they’ll all be fighting for second place.
He’s raced with the Outlaws a couple of times this season and won twice, most recently a week ago at Ohsweken Speedway out near Brantford. It was no contest that time.