How much can a change in team-manufacturer affiliation affect the balance of power in NASCAR?
If you don’t believe it, just look at the statistics from the just-completed NASCAR Premier Series season.
In 2016, Toyotas won 16 Premier Series points races, to 12 for Chevrolet and eight for Ford. Toyota also won its first NASCAR Premier Series Manufacturers’ Championship this year after 10 years of trying. That meant that for the first time since 2002, Chevrolet didn’t win the manufacturers’ title, which was huge news.
Four of Toyota’s 16 victories came from Martin Truex Jr. and his team, Furniture Row Racing, which switched from the Chevrolets it had campaigned from 2005-15 to Toyotas this year. Had Furniture Row stayed with Chevrolet, almost certainly Chevy would have taken the title again.
Instead, Toyota won. That’s how big even a one-car change can make.
For 2017, Stewart-Haas Racing will switch its four cars from Chevy to Ford, giving the Blue Oval Boys a potent lineup with SHR and Team Penske. Those two teams alone got five cars into the Chase this year and combined to win 13 races.
The balance of power unquestionably will change next year with the SHR move to Ford and Furniture Row adding a second car for promising rookie Erik Jones.
And now comes an even more tantalizing prospect: Dodge is talking seriously about a return to NASCAR, which would be very, very big, if it happens.
Sunday night, a NASCAR spokesman e-mailed me to add, “We continue to have on-going dialogue with a number of auto manufacturers about their interest in joining our sport.”
Whether “a number of auto manufacturers” means one, two or some other number remains to be seen, but even if it’s just Dodge coming back in, the impact certainly would be significant.
When Toyota came into the Premier Series in 2007, they began with two startup teams, Michael Waltrip Racing and Red Bull, and a pretty good team in Bill Davis Racing. None of those three teams is still in business.
A year later, Toyota landed its big fish, signing Joe Gibbs Racing, who has been their flagship team ever since.
If Dodge and/or other manufacturers come into the Premier Series, they would obviously need teams.
So who would be a good fit?
SHR just signed its Ford deal and you’d have to think that there’s no way Hendrick Motorsports, JGR or Team Penske would move.
By the same token, Richard Childress Racing has been with Chevrolet forever, and Roush Fenway Racing has been with Ford since its inception. Hard to imagine either of those teams switching manufacturers.
Then again, no one expected JGR to become a Toyota team nearly a decade ago.
Penske used to campaign Dodges, as did Richard Petty and Chip Ganassi. Certainly, there would be a segment of NASCAR fans who would love to see Petty’s squad back in Dodges, especially given that the team is fairly far down the food chain at Ford.
There are other teams, such as Front Row Motorsports, Germain Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing, who currently have deals in place and haven’t run Dodges, but if the right opportunity came along, who knows which team could be tempted to switch?
The Dodge news certainly raises a whole new set of questions.
Will Dodge come back to NASCAR?
If so, which teams will switch to Dodges?
For that matter will any other automaker jump in, too?
Right now, it’s all speculation, but this much is certain: The offseason just got a lot more interesting.