Reid Bigland, Dodge President and CEO, introduces the new 2013 Dodge Dart during a press preview at the North American International Auto Show (image credit Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty)
(USA Today) --- A little more than five months after Penske Racing's game-changing decision to leave Dodge, the manufacturer is leaving NASCAR altogether after this season.
Dodge SRT and Motorsports CEO Ralph Gilles announced the move Tuesday.
"Following our thorough five month process weighing all options in the sport, we have decided to withdraw from NASCAR racing," he said in an opening statement during a 2:30 p.m. ET news conference.
"You have no idea how much we feel the pain," he added. The move comes after much speculation and drama about Dodge's future in NASCAR that started with the March 1 shocker that Penske would switch to Ford as its manufacturer for Sprint Cup cars next year.
That announcement came 10 days before Dodge unveiled its 2013 Charger - a project that took nearly two years - at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Gilles said leaving NASCAR was not an option.
("I may have to drive the car myself," Gilles said on March 11.)
Penske is the only team running full-time Dodges this year with Brad Keselowski (three wins) in the No. 2 and Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 22, and there has been speculation about whether the manufacturer could find a 2013 home.
Richard Petty Motorsports, which is in a contract year with the Fords it fields for Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola, had been thought to be a top candidate for Dodge. Another domino fell Monday as Roush Yates engines were announced as Penske's motor of choice in 2013.
Penske President Tim Cindric subsequently told USA TODAY Sports that Roger Penske's 63-person engine shop would not be building Dodge engines in 2013. Until a week ago, Cindric said Penske still was exploring avenues for continuing to build engines for Dodge.
The wild-card question all along was whether Fiat, Dodge's Italy-based parent company, wanted to commit to fielding stock cars at NASCAR's highest level long-term. It appears that Tuesday has shed some light on the answer. With Dodge expanding its programs to youth-oriented motor sports in motocross, rallycross and sports cars, it seems NASCAR didn't fit Fiat's marketing plans.