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Could Dodge be ready to return to NASCAR by 2018? Doug Yates believes so

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A top NASCAR engine builder said Tuesday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Dodge could race the Daytona 500 in 2018 “if they really wanted to be there.”

In an interview on “The Morning Drive” with hosts Pete Pistone and Lee Spencer, Roush Yates Engines CEO and president Doug Yates said Dodge retains a relevant for blueprint for a Cup Series engine from five years ago. The manufacturer exited NASCAR after winning the 2012 championship with Brad Keselowski.

“Obviously, I’m not as close on the car and other aspects, but from an engine perspective, the engine they had in 2012, we had the same FR9 engines racing then,” Yates said. “Obviously, there (have) been many years of development in between, and they would have some catching up to do, but the base engine is probably OK.”

In December at Daytona International Speedway, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters he thought the Dodge brand (owned by Chrysler) possibly could return to NASCAR. Marchionne said he had dinner with NASCAR vice chairman Jim France and International Speedway Corp. CEO Lesa France Kennedy. The Drive reported that NASCAR and Dodge executives met at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this month.

“We are in a different place now,” Marchionne said in December. “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.”

There are major hurdles to clear for Dodge to return. Fiat Chrysler could face EPA sanctions for diesel emissions and accompanying massive fines, and its year-over-year U.S. sales for light cars and trucks fell 10 percent in December.

The manufacturer also would need to either find a new or existing team partner and shoulder some massive startup costs.

Yates said his company will build about 750 Cup engines this year and employs 200 (including 30 added this year with the addition of Stewart-Haas Racing to Ford Performance). Its machine shop is certified to build parts on par with aerospace-level technology.

“If you were to start anew, it would take two to three years to design, manufacture, develop and release an engine” for Cup, Yates said. “To build the infrastructure that you need, such as what we have here. Obviously, we have lots of teams and a new manufacturer may not have as many teams. But there are a lot of processes and things you go through to build an engine and engine company.

“But if you’re someone like Dodge that has an engine already, I think that you can get to the track pretty fast.”

Yates said he welcome the addition of a new manufacturer in NASCAR’s premier series, which currently has Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota.

“We may lose some customers over that, but from an overall sports perspective, I think another manufacturer would be very healthy,” he said. “Obviously I care deeply about NASCAR and the success of the sport is success for all of us, and that’s what we all want.”

NASCAR America: Steve Letarte on challenges of avoiding speeding penalites

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NBC Sports analysts Steve Letarte joined the NASCAR on NBC podcast this week. One of the topics the former crew chief discussed is the challenge of avoiding speeding penalties on pit road. Letarte said the introduction of digital dashboards has made it even harder.

Watch the video to hear his thoughts.

NASCAR America: Comparing severity of Harvick, Keselowski and Allmendinger penalties

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NASCAR handed out two crew chief suspensions in the Cup this week following the race weekend in Phoenix while another was upheld on appeal.

Brad Keselowski‘s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, was suspended three races and the team was docked 35 driver and owners points for failing weights and measurements in post-race inspection.

Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, Rodney Childers, was suspended one race and the team docked 10 driver and owner points for an unapproved track bar slider assembly.

The penalties for AJ Allmendinger‘s team, including the suspension of crew chief Randall Burnett, was upheld after an appeal.

The NASCAR America crew debates which team is hurt the most by their penalties.

 

Mario Andretti tries out, approves of Charlotte Motor Speedway road course

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We now have two positive reviews of the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.

Following AJ Allmendinger‘s comments back in January, IndyCar legend Mario Andretti has shared his thoughts on the 2.4-mile circuit that will likely host a NASCAR Cup race in fall 2018.

As a guest of the track and the NASCAR Racing Experience, the 77-year-old driver piloted two cars – a 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid and a 2017 Cadillac CTS-V. Andretti maxed out at 177 mph in the Porsche.

“It’s very difficult sometimes to really create a road course where you can ‘stretch your legs’ inside an oval,” Andretti said in a press release. “From that standpoint, I think they did a good job by giving it rhythm by putting some banking to the hairpin corners – which obviously invites some overtaking. It’s wide enough that you can choose a line. You’re not really trapped. … It’s got a multiple-line (groove) that you can choose from, depending on the capability of the car.”

The “roval” circuit would use most of the 1.5-mile oval NASCAR already competes on.

Allmendinger took part in a data test on the road course in mid-January and later said it “was a lot of fun.”

Earlier this month, Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Marcus Smith said the track “learned a lot” from the test.

“We have done a lot to engineer a world-class road course that would include the ‘roval,'” Smith told NBC Sports, adding that “several truckloads of crash walls and catchfence” were being transported in for installation.

The Cup Series has two road courses on it schedule, at Sonoma Raceway in California and Watkins Glen International in New York.

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Drivers unhurt in crash of Furniture Row Racing hauler near Las Vegas Motor Speedway

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The drivers of the Furniture Row Racing hauler carrying Erik Jones’ No. 77 Toyota were uninjured Thursday in a hit-and-run accident 15 miles north of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Travis Watts, who was behind the wheel, and David Shano were traveling from Phoenix Raceway to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, when their tractor-trailer rig was struck shortly after midnight on Interstate 15, according to a team release. The team said a car carrying two occupants pulled off the shoulder and back onto the highway directly in front of the truck, causing front-end damage to the tractor.

The team said there was no damage to the trailer or its interior, which was carrying Jones’ cars.

“We’re all very relieved no one was injured in the incident,” team president Joe Garone said. “There was substantial damage to the tractor, but everything in the trailer was checked out thoroughly and is OK. We’ve rented a tractor and the No. 77 hauler is on schedule to arrive at Auto Club Speedway later (Thursday).”

The team rented a replacement tractor at a Rush Truck Centers in North Las Vegas.

According to the team, the Nevada Highway Patrol apprehended and arrested the occupants of the car. The team is working to supply police with a video dash cam from the No. 77 tractor.