The Dodge Charger Has Been Lapped by Ford and Chevy in NASCAR

When DaimlerChrysler engineers developed the 2005 Dodge Charger, it was based on the 2004 rules package. After the car was developed and ready to makes it’s NASCAR debut, NASCAR officials decided to make modifications to the rules package. They decided to shorten the spoilers and mandate the use of softer tires, which in turn, completely through Dodge teams for a loop.

I’m oblivious as to why concessions weren’t allowed for Dodge teams after the rules package was implemented, but NASCAR snubbed any request for help from Dodge despite their observable inferiority. In all fairness to Dodge, they didn’t anticipate a change in the rules package, so is it really fair for NASCAR to hold Dodge to their outdated development of the Dodge Charger? Why were they not permitted to edit their structure according to the 2005 rules package? In my 20+ years of following the sport of NASCAR, never do I recall Ford or GM having this much trouble with receiving assistance from NASCAR when they seemed to be at a noticeable disadvantage.

Throughout the 2005 season, only three times did a Dodge Charger visit victory lane. Kasey Kahne won the Chevy Revolution 400 at Richmond, a short track where the aero package doesn’t severely affect the handling of the car. The same can be said for Ryan Newman’s victory at New Hampshire in September. New Hampshire is a flat 1.058-mile oval where aero sensitivity isn’t much of an issue. Jeremy Mayfield was able position his Dodge Charger in the winner’s circle at Michigan, a high-speed oval where the aero-rules package would really come into play. But many critics would put an asterisk beside his name because the race was won by virtue of fuel mileage. Mayfield spent most of that race in mid-pack. The rest of the apparently strong 2005 Dodge lineup of Rusty Wallace, Jamie McMurray, Sterling Marlin, and Casey Mears were shut out of victory lane. In fact, some of the Dodge drivers became frustrated with their performance, McMurray in particular, as he asked for a release from his contract with Chip Ganassi so he can drive the Fords of Roush Racing.

The performance of the Dodge Charger became so adverse that Penske Racing and Evernham Motorsports, two of Dodge’s top organizations, opted to race the 2004 Dodge Intrepid in the final race at Homestead hoping to prove a point. Both Newman and Kahne ran better than they had in the Charger as they spent most of the race among the top ten, but Mears’ strong performance and near win overshadowed Newman and Kahne’s performances. In fact, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver had several solid runs at high-speed tracks as the 2005 season drew to a close. So does this mean that there isn’t any deficiencies with the Dodge Charger?

Mears and the #41 team should be applauded for their competitiveness at Texas and Homestead, as they were able to run with the Fords of Roush Racing and the Chevy’s of Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. But is it enough to overlook Dodge’s discrepancies? Think about those races in which Mears nearly won. They were dominated by drivers such as Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, and Jimmie Johnson just to name a few. Mears was the only Dodge Charger driver with a remote chance. As stated before, Mears and his team were able to find some sort of balance that worked, but there were at least twelve full-time Dodge teams in 2005. One of them were bound to find something that worked.

Many of the Dodge teams have spent the off-season testing at Kentucky trying to find something that will aid them in their setups. These teams strive to avoid the frustrations of 2005 when their setups were hit or miss.

A group test for Dodge teams is expected to be held next month. This test is an attempt to show NASCAR the aero dynamic deficiencies with the Charger. To help their cause, it is vital for Ray Evernham, Roger Penske, and Chip Ganassi to come to some kind of agreement as to what the best solution would be in order to improve the performance of the Charger.

The moral of the story is that the disadvantage is so clear and it has weighed heavily on the Dodge teams performances. With Toyota’s debut commencing in 2007, it will be that much more difficult for Dodge to compete at this level if they are unable to adjust. In the long run, Dodge will no longer be an appealing manufacturer in NASCAR which could drive away some of Dodge’s bigger teams, such as Penske Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing, who have already been rumored as future Toyota emissaries.

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