After a four-year absence, is it time for Dodge to return to NASCAR?

Dodge Charger NASCAR
NASCAR is, if nothing else, the most American form of motor sport, but one of the Big Three United States automakers hasn’t been represented for several years. Dodge officially left NASCAR in 2012, leaving Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota to fight among themselves.

But Dodge may soon return to NASCAR, Sergio Marchionne, CEO of parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) said in a recent interview with Autoweek. Marchionne said he’d “love to” have Dodge back in NASCAR, and that he’d already talked to NASCAR executive vice president Jim France about it.

Marchionne was also the one who made the decision to pull Dodge out of NASCAR in the first place. That decision was made in 2009, as Fiat was taking the first steps to rebuild Chrysler after the U.S. firm’s bankruptcy. Marchionne said that, at the time, FCA couldn’t justify Dodge’s participation “when I was trying to pay bills and make payroll.” When Dodge officially left NASCAR in 2012, only one team (Penske Racing) was still running its cars.

For most automakers, racing is primarily a marketing exercise. NASCAR presents an interesting dilemma because, on the one hand, its popularity raises the profile of participating automakers, but the cars also have virtually nothing in common with their road-going counterparts. Dodge does have an impressive NASCAR legacy, with decades of participation and many race wins. That may be weighing on Marchionne, although he did not say when Dodge would rejoin NASCAR.

Dodge is touted by FCA as a performance brand, and it isn’t very involved in racing at the moment. After it left NASCAR, the automaker pulled the plug on a racing program for the Viper sports car, and then discontinued the Viper itself. Dodge’s biggest current racing commitment is to NHRA drag racing.

While Dodge does not officially participate in NASCAR, some Dodge-branded cars do race in the series. Race cars badged as Dodge Challengers compete in the second-tire Xfinity Series, racing against Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Toyota Camry-badged cars. NASCAR’s top series is the Sprint Cup, which features the Camry, Ford Fusion, and Chevrolet SS, and there is a NASCAR series for trucks as well.

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