Penske Racing is to end its ten-year association with Dodge and return to the Ford family for NASCAR competition in 2013, the team announced in Thursday.

"We look forward to rejoining the Ford Racing NASCAR program beginning in 2013," said team owner Roger Penske. "We appreciate the long-term commitment that Ford has made to Penske Racing and for their continued support of the sport."

"This is an historic day for our racing program, and we are thrilled that Roger Penske is returning to Ford," said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Company's president of The Americas. "Working together with Penske Racing gives Ford another championship-level program, and we are excited to take our racing program to all-new levels."

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Penske was previously partnered with Ford from 1994 until 2002 until it decided to switch to Dodge in 2003. The new multi-year deal will see Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski and AJ Allmendinger compete with Ford Fusions in the Sprint Cup series, and the team fielding Ford Mustangs in the Nationwide Series for Keselowski, Sam Hornish Jr. and Parker Kligerman.

It hasn't yet been decided who will actually be building the Ford engines for Penske in 2013. Penske has its own engine shop, but Roush Yates Engines is the main supplier of Ford units in NASCAR, and Roger Penske said that they were evaluating the way forward for 2013.

"Penske Racing has had and continues to have a terrific relationship with Dodge and we thank them for their partnership and their support over the past 10 years," said Penske. "Our organizations have experienced many great memories together and our teams are committed to produce wins and championships with Dodge this season."

Penske Racing had an up and down season in 2011, with the team noticeably off the pace at times during the year but then able to surge back to claim race wins in the latter third of the year. Even so, the team's performance was nowhere close to what is was in its maiden year with Dodge in 2003, when Ryan Newman claimed eight race wins driving for the team. After that breakout first season together, Newman gave Dodge only three wins in his last four years with Penske.

Kurt Busch gave Dodge ten wins in six seasons at Penske before he left the team by mutual agreement at the end of a stormy 2011 season, and Brad Keseloski has notched up three wins for the manufacturer. By comparison, Roush Fenway Racing have 65 race wins over the same period that Penske won 26 races while aligned with Dodge.

In the Nationwide Series, Dodge won its first championship in 2010 with Penske Racing, thanks to driver Brad Keselowski.

The engine manufacturer now faces a big headache over what it will do about a lead development team in NASCAR in 2013, with Penske having been referred to in the past as a "de facto factory team" for Dodge.

Penske has been key in Dodge's development of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Dodge Charger due to be unveiled next week at Las Vegas on March 11, part of a revamp of NASCAR Cup cars that will allow more manufacturer-specific styling than the current models.

Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing and Richard Childress Racing are all firmly in the Chevrolet stable and unlikely to be interested in a move anytime soon, while Joe Gibbs Racing and Waltrip Racing are both tied to Toyota. The teams already aligned with Ford, including Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Petty Motorsport, show no signs of wanting a change anytime soon either.

Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing - currently with Chevrolet, but seeking an edge to break out of its recent slump in form - might be an option for Dodge. Otherwise only the much smaller teams are left, none of which are likely to have the technical expertise and capacity sought by Dodge in a lead development partner.

That raises a very real possibility that Dodge might exit NASCAR altogether, despite the sport's recent success in viewing numbers and media coverage in the US. Losing Dodge would be an embarrassment for the series and could focus attention on its economic prospects, which is just the sort of cloud that NASCAR won't want hanging over them as it head into the 2012 season.

"Our motorsports involvement isn't limited to NASCAR," said Ralph Gilles, the president and CEO of SRT Brand and Motorsports "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."

In the meantime, Gilles insisted that they were committed to a successful final season with Penske.

"We are committed to work with Penske Racing to compete at the highest level, win races and contend for championships this season," he said. "Dodge has enjoyed a successful partnership with Penske Racing for ten years. It's a partnership that has produced results for both parties on and off the track. Roger has made a business decision to accept an offer with another manufacturer. We wish Roger and Penske Racing much success in the future."

But it was also clear from Roger Penske's comments that the lack of other top-level Dodge teams was one of the reasons for his decision to switch back to Ford.

"This wasn't about money," Penske said, indicating he wanted a manufacturer with deeper alliances as he felt he had to be better able to benchmark the team's performance against its rivals if he was to challenge for the Sprint Cup title in the next few years.

"It was apparent we need to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, and we've been trying to do it alone," he added, saying that the decision to make the move away from Dodge had been made before the Daytona 500.