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Dodge hasn't ruled out return after triumphant exit

| Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, 9:06 p.m.
REUTERS
Brad Keselowski celebrates after climbing from his number 2 Dodge after clinching the Sprint Cup during the 2012 Ford EcoBoost 400 Sprint Cup NASCAR race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Flo. on Nov. 18, 2012. Reuters file photo

While Richard Petty was the face of NASCAR, Dodge became a familiar fixture as stock-car racing began to stretch out from the shadows of its southern roots.

Petty won back-to-back championships in 1974 and '75, the fifth and sixth of his record-tying seven NASCAR titles. He registered 23 victories in a Dodge during a dominant span that no other driver has equaled.

However, the auto manufacturer fell behind the competition when Petty switched to Chevrolet after Cale Yarborough won three straight titles in General Motors cars: two in a Chevy and one with Oldsmobile. Then, Dodge jettisoned NASCAR in 1977 before returning in 2001.

It took 12 years, but Dodge recaptured the magic in 2012 as Brad Keselowski provided the manufacturer its first title in 37 years. Yet it wasn't enough to change the mind of executives who opted to pull out of the sport while Keselowski was dueling five-time champion Jimmie Johnson during the Chase.

Now, Dodge is measuring its desires to return. Ralph Giles, president and CEO of SRT Brand and Motorsports, left open the possibility that the manufacturer is prepared to take on NASCAR's current lineup of Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota.

Giles acknowledged that Dodge's decision in August to abandon NASCAR was influenced largely by Penske Racing's announcement after the 2011 Daytona 500 that it had agreed to a five-year deal with Ford, beginning this season.

“We can never say never, and we'll continue to evaluate opportunities in all forms of motorsports, just as we do now,” Giles said in a statement. “Following the announcement by Penske Racing, we determined a number of particular items and details necessary for us to continue in the sport. Our team worked diligently to put a structure together to fit our overall business and competitive objectives.

“In the end, we couldn't develop the right structure. Just as in this process, we'll evaluate future opportunities seeking the right structure for Dodge and our other brands.”

Giles said Dodge might consider the possibility of returning to NASCAR on a limited basis, likely in the second-tier Nationwide Series. A handful of teams — including Richard Childress Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports — could be interested.

NASCAR president Mike Helton said during the Gen-6 tour in Detroit that he's interested in expanding the competition among manufacturers.

“We wish (Dodge) were here, and I hope they would reconsider and come back soon,” Helton said. “It's an ebb and flow. Hopefully, their interest has piqued since they left.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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