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Side by Side: Will Dodge Return to NASCAR in 2010?

Editor’s Note: The following is a special edition of Frontstretch‘s Side by Side. Occasionally throughout the season, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s biggest stories. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!

Today’s Question: With Chrysler filing for bankruptcy, their racing division was quick to reaffirm they’ll be involved in NASCAR for the foreseeable future. But with the company’s fate now in the government’s hands, will they let it happen – or will Dodge wind up pulling out of the sport following the 2009 season?

Dodge Will Be Racing in 2010

OK, it finally happened… Chrysler is declaring bankruptcy. It’s time to insert the standard Obama administration script here:

We are all about the working man. ”I am pleased to announce that Chrysler and Fiat have formed a partnership that has a strong chance of success. It’s a partnership that will save more than 30,000 jobs at Chrysler and tens of thousands of jobs at suppliers, dealers and other businesses that rely on this company.”

Big money is to blame. “It was unacceptable to let a small group of speculators endanger Chrysler’s future by refusing to sacrifice like everyone else.”

Big government is your friend. ”It’s [bankruptcy] a process that has the full support of Chrysler’s key stakeholders and the full backing of the United States government. And I have every confidence that Chrysler will emerge from this process stronger and more competitive.”

Yes, we can!

What does this mean about Dodge’s involvement in NASCAR? It’s here to stay. The Obama administration has made it very clear that the Chrysler company is “a company that helped make the 20th century an American Century; and that came to embody, along with the two other members of the Big Three, the ingenuity, the industriousness, and the indomitable spirit of the American people.”

Now, the administration has already taken the “necessary steps” to preserve it. In short, for the next four years, this company will not be allowed to fold, as our president simply finds it too valuable to the American psyche. No matter how much it costs, no matter how much spin it takes from the press corps, Chrysler can’t fold… because “Yes, we can.”

Not convinced? The White House has threatened to use its press corps to destroy the reputation of any group that opposes its plans for the besieged automaker. They’re not letting Chrysler go anywhere.

And that means that Dodge’s involvement in NASCAR isn’t going anywhere, either. As much as the current administration may view a large sect of NASCAR’s right-wing fanbase as potential terrorists (Janet Napolitano, you flatter us), this is an administration that knows full well the power of NASCAR. Let’s not forget that the Obama campaign was set and ready to throw their name on the hood of BAM Racing’s No. 49 Sprint Cup entry at Pocono last year… only to turn tail and run when they found out they were negotiating to put their name on a Toyota.

And let’s not forget that the federal government is already aware of how successful a marketing tool NASCAR is. The Border Patrol saw their application numbers go up 20% within a month of their first foray into NASCAR. The Federal Communications Commission turned towards the sport to advertise the DTV transition with Robert Yates’s No. 38 car at the end of last season. And the U.S. Army just this week reaffirmed how valuable their Sprint Cup marketing campaigns are.

That means the last thing the Obama administration is going to do in trying to restore Chrysler to its stature as a viable, red-blooded piece of American industry is to make a spectacle of squashing the company’s involvement in motorsports. What’s the point of celebrating “Yes, we can build American cars” if “No, we can’t race American cars?” This administration is all about stressing how everything it does is for making America great again (even if it is “big brother” talking), attacking only hot-button issues and groups. Well, NASCAR racing isn’t one of those issues.

Seriously, if CitiFinancial has managed to keep their name on a racecar all season long with nary an utterance of opposition from D.C., there’s no reason to think that Dodge won’t be able to keep its racecars on the track this season – and for many more to come. – Bryan Davis Keith

Dodge Won’t Dodge Inevitable Departure For Long

Just this Friday, my colleague over at Sports Illustrated Lars Anderson created a stir when he reported several sources inside the NASCAR garage believe Dodge will be out of the sport within the next 12 months.

It’s a disturbing thought, to be sure… but based on what I’ve heard, I feel my colleague is right on the money. Yes, I know… Mike Accavetti has gone out of his way in recent days to ensure us the manufacturer’s involvement in the sport won’t change. But what do you expect him to say? “Yes, we’re broke, and we’ll be shutting down Penske Racing on Monday.” Of course they’re going to come out and defend themselves… and there’s no point in leaving in the middle of a season to begin with, no matter how fire the situation has become.

Before we even do that, let’s just take a look at how Dodge has scaled back their involvement in the last year. At this point, they only support two full-time Cup organizations fielding a total of seven cars. That easily puts them dead last of the four manufacturers in terms of quantity; and while the quality has been better this season (Kurt Busch finds himself second in the standings, with the team benefiting greatly from use of the new Dodge engine), let’s not forget this manufacturer is just one year removed from missing the Chase altogether. So, while losing Dodge is painful, it’s not like they have a powerhouse brewing within NASCAR… and that makes cutting the cord that much easier for a company that’s going to be looking to save money any way it can.

The lack of support from Dodge runs far deeper than stock car’s top series, though. A quick glance at the Nationwide division shows just six cars on the entry list driving Dodges. Besides Penske’s young protege Justin Allgaier, none of those entries are fully funded and are simply struggling to survive, period, in this tough economic environment. Longtime Dodge stalwarts the Keselowskis are running two unsponsored cars, while independents Randy MacDonald (with DJ Kennington driving) and Derrike Cope are doing the best they can with what they have. Add in the No. 42 driven by Kenny Hendrick – running outdated Ganassi equipment to the point he’s failing to qualify for several races – and you don’t exactly have an all-star studded lineup here even if Dodge wasn’t filing for bankruptcy.

Considering the manufacturer isn’t giving a dime to supporting the Truck Series, the writing on the wall is crystal clear to me. If you’re not even going to help fund developmental series to find drivers to put in your cars, how could Dodge remain competitive? They only have a limited amount of funding to support NASCAR to begin with, and that money is quickly drying up – and don’t think its two biggest teams don’t know it. While close to Dodge CEO Robert Nardelli, Penske’s been rumored to Toyota for oh, about a year now… and despite repeated denials, it’s pretty obvious that where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire for an organization that won’t reveal their true plans until about 30 seconds before the press conference announcing them. And as for Richard Petty Motorsports… Kasey Kahne may have already blown up their spot, admitting to ThatsRacin.com he believes the team may have been considering a full-blown switch to Toyota.

So, there you have it, folks. Contingency plans are in place for the company’s two major teams it supports, the company has stopped funding developmental series… and you’re telling me they’re going to be back, better than ever in 2010? And we haven’t even talked about the fact the company declared bankruptcy. For while the Obama administration has made it clear they’re out to save the company, marketing for the second-biggest sport in America isn’t exactly chump change to their budget. When a company is going through a major restructuring to pay off debt, those expenditures are the types of luxuries judges cross off in a heartbeat.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t think Dodge has stopped trying by any means, and in fact has scored some major improvements within just the last few months. But at some point, we’ll all come to terms with the fact they can only do so much before their hands are tied.

And right now, make no bones about it… that’s exactly where we’re at. – Tom Bowles

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