Ray Evernham got it right Monday, when he said Dodge needs teamwork more than it needs help from NASCAR.
Ever since the new Dodge Charger made its NASCAR debut at the beginning of last season, many in the Daimler-Chrysler camp have spent more time complaining about its faults than working to correct them. During Speedweeks 2005, Dodge teams complained about the large amounts of trash collected by the Charger's expansive front grille; trash that inevitably caused overheating problems and engine failure. They imediately began lobbying NASCAR to approve a new nose for the car, apparently forgetting that they had submitted the offending part for approval just a few months before. Worse, Daimler-Chrysler then submitted a revised nose so aerodynamically superior that NASCAR immediately gave it the "thumbs down."
Since then, the Dodge Boys have complained loud and long about the Charger's alleged aerodynamic inadequacy, especially on 1.5 and two-mile tracks where downforce is king and "aero push" is a four-letter word. Instead of working to solve the problem, however, some Dodge teams have chosen to close their eyes to the situation. Penske Racing South has fielded old-style Dodge Intrepids for much of this season, proclaiming them to be superior to the Charger. Their on-track results have done nothing to bear that out, with Ryan Newman currently 17th in points, and teammate Kurt Busch mired way down in 27th.
Dodge no longer sells Intrepids on the showroom floor, and Director of Motorsports Operations John Fernandez admitted in an exclusive "Sirius Speedway" interview last week that the German automaker is not thrilled with the idea of having an outdated make on the racetrack every Sunday. "Ideally," he said, "we would like to see everyone running the Dodge Charger. We are continuing to work to find a solution to the problems, and we believe we are on the right track."
Fernandez also said Dodge could order Penske Racing South to park the Intrepids, saying, "They are a factory backed team, and it is conceivable that we could do that."
This week, they finally did.
Penske Racing South President Don Miller said Monday that Dodge has informed the team that it will no longer be authorized to run the Dodge Intrepid after the April 9th Nextel Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. That same day, Evernham repeated his now-familiar complaint about the lack of teamwork in the Dodge camp, saying Dodge's original "one-team" approach to Nextel Cup racing has become disjointed and disorganized. "Right now, I don’t think we are going to NASCAR (for a rule change)," he said. "We have to get the cars better ourselves. Right now, it’s on us. We’ve got equipment. We’ve got resources, and we’ve just got to keep making the cars and motors better on our own."
Kasey Kahne -- who drove one of Evernham's Chargers to Victory Lane Monday at the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway -- agreed, saying, "I think what we have with the Charger is a very sensitive car. We know what it wants in terms of a set-up, but if we're off by even a little bit, the car becomes very temperamental. We're working hard to fix that, and I think we're well on our way."
The way I see it, every day Roger Penske spends trying to make the Dodge Intrepid faster is a day longer that it will take to fix the Dodge Charger. Daimler-Chrysler's "scrap the Intrepid" edict is a step in the right direction, but it may not be enough. In fact, some in the Nextel Cup garage question Penske's interest in perfecting the Charger, at all.
With Toyota poised to join the upper levels of NASCAR next season, there has been widespread speculation that the Japanese automaker will make a major push to add Penske Racng South to its Nextel Cup lineup. Penske and Toyota have a long and successful history in Open Wheel racing, and while Kevin Harvick (still rumored), Bill Davis and Michael Waltrip will make fine additions to the 2007 Toyota roster, a top team like Penske's will almost certainly receive an attractive offer to bolt to the Toyota camp.
Perhaps "The Captain" is hedging his bet, declining to do Research and Development work on a car that he may be competing against next season. Or perhaps -- despite all eveidence to the contrary -- he truly believes the Intrepid to be a superior racecar. No matter what, Penske Racing South will be forced to begin toeing the company line at Texas next month.
Until then, it's time for the Dodge Boys to quit bitchin' and start pitchin' in.