When it was announced that Richard Petty Motorsports would switch to Ford in 2010, it meant that one of the most recognizable figures in racing was switching affiliations.
Back in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, Petty was the flagship driver for Daimler-Chrysler.
Petty was constantly driving a Plymouth or Dodge and was featured on many of their advertisements. When the famed "Super Bee" came out in 1970, Petty was quick to put one with his No. 43 on the track.
In 2001, when Ray Evernham led the charge of bringing Dodge back to NASCAR, Petty was the second team to come over to the brand. Soon, there were 10 cars that joined in, going to the Dodge name plate.
Now, 10 years later, that number is down to four. Heading into the 2010 season, only Penske Racing and James Finch remain as teams bearing the Dodge emblem in the Sprint Cup Series.
What happened to the brand that returned to the sport after nearly a 30-year hiatus?
The truth is, what happened was not much. When Dodge returned in 2001, it took the brand 23 races before they got to victory lane. That race was rain-shortened, as Sterling Marlin took the checkered flag.
Dodge would go on to win three more races that year, including putting Bill Elliott in victory lane for the first time since 1994.
The 2002 season would prove to be the best season for Dodge, as they recorded eight wins. They included a win in the Daytona 500 with Ward Burton, Ryan Newman winning the Winston, and Bill Elliott putting Dodge in victory lane at the Brickyard.
The following year saw Dodge have another successful campaign, as the brand was in victory lane seven times, six of which were from Ryan Newman.
Over the next two years, it would be a struggle to see Dodge in victory lane as they would only get seven victories.
Then in 2006, Dodge came back with horns blazing. Their lead driver, Kasey Kahne, recorded six victories, including sweeping the races at Charlotte.
But since 2007, the brand has only 11 victories in the series. Kahne leads all the Dodge drivers with five, while Busch has four, and both Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya each have one.
What could cause such a great brand to struggle in recent years in NASCAR?
It is hard to say, but many factors are responsible for such a decline. More recently, it has been the economy taking a hit on American car manufacturers. Both General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a signal that the car buyers were moving away from American makers.
With such a struggle, there were sacrifices. Richard Petty Motorsports admitted that the filing caused his team to lose a lot of their funding for the team. In turn, the organization had to lay off many of its workers.
Now, with the move to Ford, a lot more of those employees will be out of work as the resources of Yates Racing are now part of the team.
One other reason for their decline can also be attributed to the debut of Toyota. When the Camry made it's debut in 2007, some of the lead teams elected to switch to the import brand.
Toyota would not get it's first win in the Sprint Cup Series until 2008. But, in the two years that followed, the brand has 20 wins. Meanwhile, Dodge only has eight.
Prior to the 2009 season, Dodge was already losing some drivers. Robby Gordon's single car team left the brand in favor of Toyota.
The Ganassi Racing team that fielded Montoya merged with Dale Earnhardt Inc., which fields Chevrolet.
Newman himself left the Penske organization to join Tony Stewart's new operation, switching over to Chevrolet as well.
The only teams that are left under for the Dodge brand in the Cup Series are Penske, who fields cars for Busch, Sam Hornish Jr., and rookie Brad Keselowski, plus James Finch, who has multiple drivers.
Just four cars bearing the Dodge emblem could mean that the end is near for them in NASCAR.
But how much longer can they last? They're committed through 2010, but will they be there in 2011? How about 2012?
They may have a Hemi, but it looks like their future is very meek. What a far cry from their days of dominance in NASCAR.
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