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.
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 email@example.com
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