The last time a Dodge driver won the Sprint Cup Series championship was in 1975 – nine years before Brad Keselowski was born.
With the manufacturer pulling out of NASCAR after Sunday’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, Dodge may never win another one.
In what has become a strange twist to Keselowski’s possible championship is the fact Penske Racing will celebrate its first Sprint Cup championship by walking away from the car company that took them there.
Without Penske, Dodge decided it was better to leave NASCAR than to work with a lower-tiered team.
While the Penske organization already is working on new Fords for next year, Dodge has remained committed to leaving as a winner.
“We are going to keep all options open,” said Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of Dodge’s Street and Racing Technology Brand and Motorsports. “It would be imprudent to try to predict the future right now.”
Dodge left after the 1977 season because the Magnum model wasn’t competitive and the car company needed to focus on strengthening sales of its passenger cars. It returned in 2001 with Ray Evernham Motorsports and it’s won 55 races since. Penske moved from Ford to Dodge in 2009 and won 14 races in the last four years.
Now it’s in position to add a championship.
If Keselowski finishes no worse than 15th on Sunday, part of Dodge’s future will include its first title since Richard Petty won it in 1975. Part of the team’s preparation, however, has been working on the new 2013 Ford. NASCAR changed the templates to create better brand identity for the remaining manufacturers, Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota.
Keselowski drove a Ford in a test session last month at the Phoenix International Raceway. While there is some important work remaining this season, Penske Racing appears eager to get up to speed with Ford.
“I had heard rumors that things weren’t going so well with that car, so it felt good to kind of just do it on my own and see what was really going on,” Keselowski said of next year’s Ford. “The cars seem to have a lot of drivability, and it’s easy to work backwards from there because certainly we have to balance that.”
Car owner Roger Penske announced on March 1 his organization not only was moving to Ford, but would buy engines from Roush Fenway Racing. The move stunned Dodge, since it put all of its resources in Penske’s two-car operation, which also includes the No. 22 Dodge for Sam Hornish Jr.
Dodge spent the end of last season and most of the off-season trying to create a future plan. Penske wanted things wrapped up sooner and he wanted a long-term deal.
While Dodge crunched numbers, Ford made its move.
“It caught us by surprise and we have not recovered since,” Gilles said. “It would be hard to replace Roger because Roger has a long-term deal with Ford.”
Dodge spent months trying to find a championship-caliber team before deciding to withdraw from the sport next season. The manufacturer said it was working behind the scenes on its 2013 model when Penske made his decision. Now it’s left with trying to lure a top team for the 2014 campaign.
It may have a championship to use as a bargaining chip.
“It’s getting really interesting,” Gilles said. “It would be a fairy tale story to leave on the highest note possible for now.”