Penske Racing will switch from Dodge to Ford in NASCAR competition beginning in 2013, a move the team believes will help Roger Penske finally win a Sprint Cup championship.
Penske said Thursday his drivers will compete with Ford Fusions in the Sprint Cup Series, and Ford Mustangs in the Nationwide Series. He said the multi-year deal calls for Penske to field two Cup cars and two Nationwide cars, and he hopes to eventually move one of his Nationwide teams up a level to create a three-car Cup program.
"When we weighed the plusses and minuses of the opportunity, it was apparent we need to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, and we've been trying to do it alone," Penske said in a conference call.
Only Penske and Robby Gordon currently compete with Dodge, which recently rebranded itself to SRT Brand and Motorsports.
Penske fielded his first entry in NASCAR in 1972, but did not launch a full program until 1991 with Rusty Wallace. Although he's one of the most successful team owners in open-wheel history, his only NASCAR championship came in the second-tier Nationwide Series, with Brad Keselowski in 2010.
Wallace finished second in the 1993 title race. Penske's highest finishes in the last decade were a fourth from Kurt Busch in 2009 and a fifth last season from Keselowski.
Penske noted that with all four NASCAR manufacturers rolling out new 2013 models next season, the time was right to switch brands. His contract with Dodge ends at the conclusion of this season.
"This was a watershed time to take a good look in the rear-view mirror and also out front," he said. "It was a tough decision."
He said the Penske organization will stop development of Dodge's 2013 car, which is scheduled to be unveiled next weekend at Las Vegas. Penske said his team won't be part of the announcement.
Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of SRT Brand and Motorsports, said the brand is committed to auto racing.
"Roger has made a business decision to accept an offer with another manufacturer," Gilles said. "We are committed to work with Penske Racing to compete at the highest level, win races and contend for championships this season.
"Our motorsports involvement isn't limited to NASCAR. We do value our NASCAR program and will be evaluating the opportunities available moving forward. As those opportunities materialize, we'll reveal our 2013 plans, not only in NASCAR but in other forms of motorsports."
Penske first raced with Ford in 1976 and 1977, then re-joined the blue oval brand from 1994 through 2002. Penske teams won 28 races and 42 poles with Ford.
Penske joined Dodge in 2003, and has won 48 races in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series with Dodge, 72 poles and Keselowski's Nationwide championship.
Penske said he's not decided yet who will build his engines, and there's no contingency that he must use Roush Yates engines. The engines were the strongest in Daytona the last two weeks — Carl Edwards won the pole for the Daytona 500, and Matt Kenseth won the race — but Penske noted he has his own in-house engine program.
Penske also said there is no conflict between his new partnership with Ford and his IndyCar Series program, which is the flagship team for Chevrolet. Ford does not compete in the IndyCar Series.
"We've been operating with different manufacturers for a number of years," Penske said. "Obviously, it's two different series that really don't compete with each other."