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Loyalty Only Goes So Far, and Other Manufacture Musings

The 2017 NASCAR season is almost officially underway, and with the new season comes a lot of changes.

Perhaps the biggest change is the manufacturer switch Stewart-Haas Racing made from Chevrolet to Ford in the off-season. For many diehard fans, it will take some getting used to seeing a team which had run Chevrolets change over to Fords.

In what came as a shock when it was announced that Stewart-Haas Racing would be leaving Chevrolet, it shows the role manufacturers play in gaining the slightest competitive edge.

Loyalty only goes so far.

It’s easy to be loyal when things are going well, and the results are showing on the racetrack. But as soon as there is an opportunity to gain an edge under a different banner with a different badge on the front of the car, teams and drivers are hard-pressed to look away.

Just because things have been one way for so long, does not mean they are not subject to change. In recent years, it has been uncommon, though not unheard of to make a manufacturer switch.

Joe Gibbs Racing left Chevrolet after 2007 to head up Toyota’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series efforts 2008. Since the switch, they have garnered one championship with Kyle Busch in 2015.

Team Penske won the Cup title in 2012 with Brad Keselowski in a Dodge, in what was the last year of a Dodge team at the Cup level before they hopped over to Ford beginning in 2013. Team Penske is yet to win a title since making their manufacturer change.

Furniture Row Racing switched from Chevrolet to Toyota beginning in 2016 with Martin Truex Jr., who is now joined by Erik Jones. Since switching to Toyota, Furniture Row Racing has forged a close working relationship with Toyota stablemates, Joe Gibbs Racing, and are now frontrunners nearly every week, though they have yet to win a title.

As much as fans wish their favorite driver would stick to one manufacturer for the duration of their career, it hardly ever happens. In fact, it’s a rarity when a driver remains with one brand.
Even the biggest stars of NASCAR, past and present, who have been linked to one manufacturer, drove for different manufacturers at different points in their respective careers.

Dale Earnhardt’s name is synonymous with Chevrolet, yet he began his career in a Dodge Charger. He even ran two seasons in a Ford Thunderbird in the early ‘80s.

Richard Petty had a majority of his success under the Mopar banner, driving Plymouths and Dodges, but even he was not loyal to one brand his entire career. In fact, like Dale Earnhardt, he raced for all of Michigan’s Big Three automakers. After beginning his career running Mopars, he switched to Ford in 1969, but later he ran for General Motors in a Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Buick, and retired in a Pontiac.

Tony Stewart’s career began in a Pontiac and then Chevrolet when the Pontiac division of General Motors disbanded. In 2008, he ran his lone season in a Toyota before he formed Stewart-Haas Racing running Chevrolets, and now though he is out of the driver’s seat, his team will pilot Fords.

Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth both left Fords at Roush Fenway Racing for the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing.

Among the short list of active drivers who have remained steadfast to one manufacturer are Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who have run their entire Cup careers in Chevrolets. The now-retired Jeff Gordon ran a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in every Cup start he made – but it’s worth noting he ran a Ford in the XFINITY Series prior before joining Hendrick Motorsports at the Cup level.

Hendrick Motorsports has remained faithful to the Chevrolet brand, while Roush Fenway Racing has been with Ford since their inception in 1988. Wood Brothers Racing has had a strong partnership with Ford Motorcraft and have only housed Fords and for a time, Mercury, which falls under the Ford umbrella.

As for Dodge, which NASCAR has been without since 2013, there is hope.

Dodge has been on the record as wanting to throw their hat back into the ring. If Dodge were to rejoin the fray, all three of America’s Big Three automakers would be back on the track, which is exciting to a lot of the sport’s core fans.

Ray Evernham, who helped usher in Dodge’s return to NASCAR in 2001, has been vocal about a potential return to the sport, stating, “Dodge has a long history in the sport and I’m sure they’d like nothing more than to be able to come back and add to that history. I’m hoping it happens.”

As a fan, do you still care who drives what car and manufacturer, or are those days long gone? Let the staff at POPULAR SPEED know your opinion by tweeting @POPULARSPEED. We would love to hear from you and continue the conversation.

Shane Carlson is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL SHANE AT shane.carlson@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @ShaneCarlson4

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

Make Room for Mopar?

Rumblings have begun to stir about a possible manufacturer expansion for NASCAR, and Dodge has been linked to making a comeback.

Dodge left the sport after winning the Sprint Cup Series title with Brad Keselowski in 2012, 11 years after re-entering NASCAR with Evernham Motorsports in 2001.

Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, spoke with NASCAR Vice Chairman Jim France and International Speedway Inc. CEO Lesa France Kennedy over the weekend during the Ferrari Finali Mondiali at Daytona International Speedway about the possibility of Dodge making a return to NASCAR.

Marchionne, who is also the CEO of Ferrari, said, “Yes, I’d love to return to NASCAR. I was the one who made the decision to pull out of NASCAR. I am the guilty party at the table. In 2009 we came out of bankruptcy, and tried to race in NASCAR, but with the big bills and make payroll was a stretch.

“We are in a different place now. I think it is possible we can come back to NASCAR. I think we need to find the right way to come back in, but I agreed with both Jim and Lesa we would come back to the issue.”

NASCAR CEO Brian France confirmed he met with Marchionne on the subject, and stated at Homestead-Miami Speedway that NASCAR was in discussions to possibly add another manufacturer. However, he stated they currently were “not in a position to make that announcement.”

So if, and it’s a big if, Dodge does indeed rejoin the sport, it will be one of four manufacturers, alongside Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota. The question then becomes what team Dodge would align themselves with.

Hendrick Motorsports is well-established with the Chevrolet brand and would never consider switching brands. Stewart-Haas Racing will switch over from Chevrolet to Ford beginning in 2017, so they are not going to make the jump to Dodge either. Nor will Roush Fenway Racing, as they are fully ingratiated into the Blue Oval culture and the consumer street performance division as well.

Joe Gibbs Racing, in partnership with Furniture Row Racing, carry the banner for Toyota with plenty of factory support from Toyota Racing Development and as long as they are Toyota’s top dogs, they’re not going to switch manufacturers.

Team Penske was the last team to run Dodges, and won the championship with Brad Keselowski before hopping over to Ford. Since then they have overtaken Roush Fenway Racing as the best team in the Ford camp. Wood Brothers Racing will only race under the Ford banner. There’s no way they ever leave the Blue Oval brand, especially with their improved performance since becoming a satellite team with Team Penske.

So with all these teams most likely sticking with the manufacturers they have now, it doesn’t leave a ton of options open. But here is a short list of possible candidates:

Richard Petty Motorsports is the best choice because of the history. Petty was the face of Dodge in his day, and fans link his name and heritage to that of Dodge. They go hand-in-hand. With the Ford pool getting more crowded, they would have an opportunity to be the poster children of Dodge once again.

BK Racing is a second-tier Toyota team, and isn’t anywhere near the level of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas, and don’t seem to be catching up anytime soon.

Front Row Motorsports, much like Richard Petty Motorsports, isn’t the biggest fish in the Ford pond, and if they get more factory support from Dodge than they do Ford, it would make sense.

Richard Childress Racing and Chevrolet go deep, and I don’t see them moving brands, and I especially don’t see the No. 3 in anything other than a Bowtie. However, they do play second fiddle to Hendrick Motorsports.

JTG Daugherty Racing is a growing operation, in both size and competitiveness, as they work in close collaboration with Richard Childress Racing. But if they wanted to be trailblazers and bolt for Dodge, it’s not like JTG hasn’t changed manufacturers before.

Germain Racing will remain with Chevy most likely, as they hired a new gun in Ty Dillon, grandson of Richard Childress. Their performance should also be better as they too are a satellite operation of Richard Childress Racing.

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is a team I can see going either way. They haven’t been as competitive as Hendrick Motorsports racing in Chevys, but they haven’t been terrible. Kyle Larson is a rising star, and Chevrolet would hate to see him go. But Ganassi a has history with Dodge as he gave Dodge their first win in their latest re-entrance to the sport in the early 2000s.

A return for Mopar isn’t likely for 2017, as any manufacturer who wished to join NASCAR would have had to make a formal request by September 2015. A full-scale car would have had to be submitted to NASCAR by April 1, 2016. However, should they return in 2018 or beyond, it could provide an interesting shake-up.

Shane Carlson is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL SHANE AT shane.carlson@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @ShaneCarlson4

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.