Dodge Challenger, Charger Should Return to NASCAR Now
After Brad Keselowski won the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in his #2 Dodge Charger, FCA pulled their factory backing from NASCAR, effectively ending the presence of Dodge in Sprint Cup Series and Xfinity Series. This caused some anger with Mopar performance fans who had gotten back into the sport when Dodge made their return to stock car racing with the Intrepid back in 2001, and as you might image, many Dodge fans lost interest in NASCAR when FCA pulled their support.
However, while speaking at the Ferrari Challenge World Finals, Sergio Marchionne said that he would love to see Dodge back in NASCAR – and he went on to say that he has already spoken to NASCAR management about a return.
Marchionne on a NASCAR Return
While speaking at Daytona International Speedway, FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne stated that he had already spoken with NASCAR boss Jim France about a possible Dodge return to NASCAR. Marchionne went on to state that he made the final decision for Dodge to pull out of NASCAR back in 2012 and that decision was made due to the financial state of the Chrysler Group back then.
Figure that the company was trying to climb out of bankruptcy, so putting big money into a racing series centered on non-production-based vehicles just didn’t make sense. While it was great for Dodge fans to see the Charger racing in the Sprint Cup and the Challenger racing in what we know today as the Xfinity Series, it is hard to tie sales of either of those cars to their NASCAR successes. For instance, the Chevrolet SS driven by Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR Sprint Cup title this year and that high performance sedan sells very poorly – but NASCAR really isn’t about directly improving sales.
NASCAR is about branding – getting your company name and vehicle names involved in the largest and most popular racing series in the United States. Competing in NASCAR can be a great tool in putting your brand name in front of millions of loyal automotive enthusiasts, so while a Jimmie Johnson fan might not buy a Chevrolet SS after watching a NASCAR race, that fan is more likely to buy a Malibu over a Fusion – which is what Ford campaigns in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
That branding effort is why Sergio Marchionne would love to get Dodge back into NASCAR, and with the current approach of Dodge being a high performance brand – now seems like the perfect time to get the Charger and Challenger back into America’s most popular motorsport.
Dodge Should Return to NASCAR ASAP
When you consider the fact that Dodge pulled out of NASCAR due to money issues combined with the fact that Dodge (and what we knew as the Chrysler Group brands) is doing much better today, it seems like FCA could afford to invest some money into a new NASCAR program. It was recently announced that FCA would not continue its factory backing of the NHRA Pro Stock program and they haven’t been spending money on endurance racing, off-road truck racing or rally racing in several years now – so the company has very little involvement in American professional motorsports outside of the NHRA Funny Car class. With so little involvement, you would think that there are some available funds to spend on a return to NASCAR, but this isn’t the perfect time just because the money might be there.
Over the past few years, FCA has positioned Dodge has a high performance brand, with the Challenger and Charger coming with a trip of Hemi V8 engines and the Durango packing a powerful V8 of its own – along with rumors of an SRT variant in the near future. The Dodge Dart is dead and the Grand Caravan is seemingly on its way out, leaving the Journey as the only non-sporty vehicle in the Dodge lineup. Also, with the Viper leaving the lineup after 2018, the Challenger and Charger are the premium performance models, so it would make good sense for the company to get one (or both) of those models back into the most popular motorsport series in the USA.
A return of the Dodge Challenger and Dodge Charger to NASCAR might not have a huge impact on the sales sheet, but a NASCAR presence – especially a successful one – would allow FCA to reinforce the move to market Dodge as THE performance brand in the United States.