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Chrysler eyes return of Dodge to NASCAR racing

12/04/2016


DAYTONA BEACH — Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, revealed Sunday that he has spoken with NASCAR Vice Chairman Jim France and International Speedway Inc. CEO Lesa France Kennedy about the return of Dodge to the stock-car series.

The three had dinner Saturday night during the Ferrari Finali Mondiali at Daytona International Speedway. Marchionne, who is also CEO of Ferrari, was in town for the Ferrari-only World Finals.

Dodge returned to NASCAR in 2001 then exited in 2012 just after Brad Keselowski won the Cup Series championship for the American-made nameplate.

Asked about the return to NASCAR, Marchionne confirmed that he had discussed it with the Frances.

“I talked to Jim France about this last night,” he said. “I was the one who made the decision to pull out of NASCAR. I am the guilty party at the table. In 2009 we came out of bankruptcy and tried to race NASCAR (but) with the big bills and (trying to) make payroll was a stretch.

“We are in a different place now. I think it is possible we can come back to NASCAR. I think we need to find the right way to come back in, but I agreed with both Jim and Lesa we would come back to the issue.”

France confirmed that he had spoken to Marchionne about bringing Dodge back into NASCAR’s top series, now sponsored by Monster Energy.

“Yes, we talked,” France said. “He is a very intelligent man. We had a good discussion.”

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France alluded to talks with another car manufacturer when he met with race media at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 20.

France was asked at that time if there had been any discussion about bringing in additional manufacturers.

“Yes, yes, but we're not in a position to make that announcement,” he said at that press conference.

NASCAR vice president of marketing and communications David Higdon weighed in with the sanctioning body’s official statement Sunday night about adding more car manufacturers in the sport.

“There is increasing excitement around NASCAR,” he said. “We continue to have ongoing dialogue with a number of auto manufacturers about their interest in joining our sport. We look forward to exploration with them on this topic.”

Race fans attending Sunday’s Ferrari Finali Mondiali were excited about the news that Chrysler is considering climbing back into the NASCAR ring.

“That is sweet,” said Bruno Goi, 28, of Daytona Beach. “That is really exciting to me. I’d like them to come back for sure.”

Andre Filhot, from Daytona Beach, said if Chrysler gets back into stock-car racing, they can lean on their first cousins from Ferrari for technical assistance.

“That’s big news,” Filhot, 27, said. “That would bring more competition and maybe Ferrari could bring their knowledge with them.

“American engines are very good, but Ferrari may make them better, or they can bring more technology from the F1 group.”

Gabe Medina, who drove over from Tampa to participate in the Finali Mondiali, said Dodge is an iconic racing brand.

“It’s a name NASCAR needs,” the 24-year-old race fan said. “Right now it’s Ford, Chevy and Toyota, so it would help fill the field of (car manufacturers).

Local Chrysler dealer Jack Holcomb, citing the marketing angle, gave an initial thumbs-up to the manufacturer’s potential return to NASCAR.

“If you look at what the Dodge brand is now, with the Challenger and Charger, it’s aligned much better with NASCAR,” Holcomb said. “Dodge has become a hot-rod brand, so if you’re ever going to get back in, you’re much better aligned now.”

Holcomb also tempered his enthusiasm, however.

“It has to be a good team,” he said. “If it’s a so-so team with so-so investment, it means nothing. If you come back and perform, it’s always exciting, right?

“Everyone wants to be associated with a winner. Look at an NFL franchise and how excited everyone is when the team is winning, and compare that to how everything is selling when the team stinks.

“You have to have an owner who’s passionate about it. If someone comes in and does a good job, it’ll be great.”
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