The car manufacturer Chrysler used this weekend's NASCAR event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to show off the new generation Dodge Charger that the company hopes to field in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition in 2013.
New rules and regulations are being introduced in the series from next season to allow car manufacturers to bring more of their own individual styling to the cars and make the stock cars more closely resemble the road cars that they market to the public.
"NASCAR provided the manufacturers with basic specifications, but offered encouragement to venture beyond the look of the current race car," said Ralph Gilles, Chrysler's president and CEO of SRT (Street and Racing Technology) Brand and Motorsports. "From the start, it's been a collaborative effort with NASCAR."
"We're excited about the results of the collective efforts of NASCAR, Dodge and the other manufacturers to create the 2013 Sprint Cup cars," said NASCAR president Mike Helton. "The 2013 Dodge Charger race car design is a great example of what we look forward to seeing on the race track next season."
The new Dodge has been developed with considerable input from the Penske team, but that organisation announced last week that it was to drop Dodge and return to the Ford stable in 2013, leaving the future of the 2013 Dodge Charger and the very involvement of the manufacturer in NASCAR competition in considerable doubt.
"The same questions you're asking me is what we're asking ourselves," Gilles told reporters when asked about what Penske's decision meant for the manufacturer. "So we're just putting it all down on paper and trying to figure out what's the next big move.
"It's only been a couple of weeks," said Gilles after the unveiling of the new car, which notably saw no representatives of Penske at the public unveiling at LVMS. "I'm still kind of licking my wounds and trying to figure out the world right now. The good news is that the phone is ringing. There's a lot of people very interested to be part of what we've done ... I'm not too concerned."
Among Penske's reasons for dropping Dodge is thought to be the lack of other major teams running the same make of car against which they are able to benchmark themselves. Dodge's unwillingness to sign anything over a five-year renewal deal is also thought to have been a major factor in the break-up.
“We weren't willing to do a five-year type of deal just because we wanted to stay loose a little bit,” said Gilles when asked about this. “That's all I can say on that matter.”
Dodge re-entered NASCAR competition 12 years ago and originally had a full stable of teams aligned with it including Bill Davis Racing, Evernham Motorsports, Petty Enterprises, Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske Racing, but the economic downturn in 2009 saw teams either fold or move to other manufacturers.
The only other team now fielding Dodge cars in Sprint Cup competition is the small, single-car Robby Gordon Motorsports operation. Not only does RGM not have the budget for the kind of technical development work that Dodge need in their principle team, the lack of other teams running Dodge means that the company's NASCAR operation simply isn't commercially long-term without signing on more partners.
One team with historic links to Dodge in the past is Richard Petty Motorsports, currently in the last year of its current contract with Ford. However, RPM recently flirted with closure itself and is also not a big operation, currently relying on Roush Fenway Racing for its engines, chassis and technical support rather than having its own development personnel.
Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing is another team with old ties to Dodge, but team co-owner Felix Sabates seemed to squelch any hopes of them making a move anytime soon. "We're happy where we are ... It's hard to beat General Motors or this group with Chevrolet."
Gilles insisted that his heart was in seeing Dodge stay in NASCAR. "I would say we're putting our effort in that direction, and we'll see what happens," he said. "We've been knocked down a few times in our history and we've come back."
Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota are the other manufacturers currently in Cup competition. Ford unveiled its 2013 Ford Fusion Sprint Cup model