Monday, March 12, 2012

Manufacturer Muscle

NASCAR's Mike Helton poses with the 2013 Dodge Charger,
but it was the manufacturers that pushed move to incredased
brand identity
Dodge became the second manufacturer to unveil its 2013 race car this past weekend in Las Vegas, displaying the new Charger.  The car is another example of the manufacturer efforts to restore brand identity to the series.

It’s also another sign of the renewed manufacturer muscle in NASCAR.

Although careful to credit NASCAR for its “collaborative effort” in developing the new cars, the manufacturers are clearly the driving force in restoring brand identity.  NASCAR agreed to the move more than two years  following a meeting with manufactures in Michigan, where at least one company threatened to leave if the series if the change didn’t take place. 

"The race fans delivered a clear message," said Ralph Gilles, President and CEO – SRT Brand (Street and Racing Technologies) and Motorsports.  "NASCAR listened. We went to work, following the guidelines established for all manufacturers by NASCAR. The Dodge Charger revealed today validates our resolve to deliver a product that will be easily identifiable on the track without compromise in the area of competition."

Like Ford’s Fusion, the Charger is a great looking car.  But one thing not announced by Dodge, who will race the car after Penske Racing said last week it will be running Fords next year.  Gillies admitted Dodge “didn’t see it (Penske leaving) coming” and explained Penske wanted a five-year deal, something the company wasn’t ready to provide.  Gillies says the biggest challenge will be finding a team with an active engine program, although he noted there is some interest in bringing engine development in-house, similar to Toyota’s business model.

Another sign of renewed manufacturer clout last week came when Elliott Sadler was pulled from the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota without ever running a race.  In Phoenix, the team and driver  announced plans for Sadler to run five Cup races this year in the No. 55 Toyota Camry, filling in for the semi-retired Mark Martin and mostly retired Waltrip. 

Apparently Sadler forgot to mention the move to his Nationwide car owner, Richard Childress, who finally caught up with him – in of all places – Victory Lane at Phoenix.  Childress pointed out to Salder he had the best ride of all the Nationwide regulars, was running for a championship and that he was driving a CHEVY.  Sadler may not be the smartest guy out there, but he’s not the dumbest either and announced the next day he would not be driving for Waltrip, in order to focus on his Nationwide efforts.  Sadler tweeted:  “I can honestly say Phoenix is the first time I've ever won and lost in the same Victory Lane.”

Sadler has been replaced by Brian Vickers – a former Toyota driver – who will run six races for the team.  Waltrip still needs to name a driver for the season’s two road course races.  

PIT STOPS:  Robbie Gordon, hoping for added support from Dodge after Penske announced plans to run Fords next year, didn’t help his cause in Las Vegas, failing to qualify…If there was any doubt, Ricky Stenhouse is for real.  He handed out what Mark Martin called “one serious beat-down” in winning the Las Vegas Nationwide race.  He’s Cup-ready right now…The racing season really gets going this coming weekend with the running of the 12 Hours of Sebring and the start of the Formula One season in Australia.  Sorry, but F1 has now replaced Grand Am as the series with the ugliest cars…Enjoy the races.       

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