Dodge Running out of Time to Establish 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Program

Christopher Leone@ChristopherlionSenior Analyst IMay 31, 2012

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 11:  The new Dodge Charger is shown after the unveiling for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 11, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

According to USA Today's sports bureau, NASCAR manufacturer Dodge is still seeking partners for the 2013 Sprint Cup Series season after Penske Racing's shock defection to Ford earlier this year.

The brand, which re-entered NASCAR in 2001 after a decades-long hiatus, will lose both its lone team and engine supplier in Roger Penske's organization at the end of the season. After Robby Gordon Motorsports scaled back its NASCAR operations earlier this season, Penske's two entries for Brad Keselowski and A.J. Allmendinger have been Dodge's only full-time Sprint Cup entries this year.

Penske provides its own Dodge-branded engines through its own engine building shop. That deal could continue, or Dodge could establish its own shop. Penske has experience representing multiple brands at once, as its IndyCar team runs Chevrolets.

While rumors have suggested an impending alliance with IndyCar team Andretti Autosport, an expanded Furniture Row Racing or even a return to Richard Petty Motorsports, and an announcement when NASCAR visits Michigan International Speedway in mid-June, nothing appears to be imminent.

The silence brings into question what Dodge's best method of attack would be, especially as a new car model for next season will require testing in order to bring it up to competitive speed. A prolonged delay in establishing partnerships could lead to a situation akin to that of Lotus in IndyCar, which resulted in the brand's two cars being parked within the first 10 laps of Sunday's Indianapolis 500.

Andretti fields a total of nine full-time cars in various levels on the IndyCar ladder, while also promoting its race events in both Milwaukee and Baltimore. Furniture Row general manager Joe Garone told Fox Sports in early May that he would like to add Kurt Busch as a teammate for Regan Smith, providing Dodge with a marquee driver to replace the departing Keselowski. Petty took many wins and championships in Dodges during his heyday, but the team and brand had a messy divorce in 2009 that saw it run both Dodges and Fords late in the season.

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MARTINSVILLE, VA - MARCH 30:  Regan Smith, driver of the #78 Furniture Row/CSX Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 30, 2012 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/G
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

While Travis Pastrana, currently a development driver for Michael Waltrip Racing, races a self-owned Dodge Dart in the Global Rallycross Championship, Waltrip and Toyota announced a long-term extension when they revealed the 2013 Camry in late May. That likely precludes Pastrana from joining the brand in Sprint Cup, when and if he makes it to that level.

Another option, albeit an unlikely one, is to go after many of the sport's privateer teams and promise them enough money to make them competitive. In that case, however, it seems more likely that the brand would pull the plug on its NASCAR program entirely, rather than take such a large risk.

At this point, whether Dodge manages to make it to the Sprint Cup grid in 2013 is anyone's guess. Though the season-opening Daytona 500 remains nearly nine months away, NASCAR's culture of signing contracts far in advance and testing new car models before the start of this year's Chase threaten to leave the brand far behind its competition.

Christopher Leone is a featured NASCAR columnist for Bleacher Report. View a comprehensive archive of his work here. Follow him on Twitter at @christopherlion.