(Image courtesy Dodge and DriveSRT.com)

Could most powerful muscle cars ever made lead Dodge back to NASCAR?


When Dodge left NASCAR after Brad Keselowski and Penske Racing won the 2012 Sprint Cup championship (what better way to go out but on top, right?) in a Charger, company officials at the time left the door open to a possible return to the sport someday.

It could be a few years, maybe a decade or more. Then again, it may never happen.

But …

While there’s been absolutely zero news out of Dodge’s headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, about a potential return to NASCAR, other recent news could be construed that maybe something might be up.

After all, why would Dodge officially announce on the company’s 100th birthday this past Tuesday – not to mention release the testosterone-dripping video that can be seen at the bottom of this column – that it will begin production of and start selling the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hemi Hellcat sometime later this year?

Big deal, just a new and improved model of the Challenger, right?

Wrong. The new supercharged Hemi Hellcat Challenger is set to become the most powerful muscle car ever made, sporting a massive 707 horsepower motor under its hood.

For all you gearheads and wrench jockeys, I’ll repeat that: 707 mean and ornery horses under the hood.

Oh yes, and did we mention that the speedometer on the Hemi Hellcat Challenger might potentially reach as high as 200 mph, if the above illustration from one of Dodge’s websites (DriveSRT.com) is accurate?

That’s more raw power and potential high-end speed than the 700-hp Lamborghini Aventador, the 663-hp Ford Shelby Mustang GT500, the 650-hp Chevrolet Corvette Z06, the 580-hp Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1 or the 505-hp Camaro Z28. It even makes the once 640-hp speed king Dodge Viper look like it’s an underpowered 40-year-old Chevy Vega or Ford Maverick.

In fact, the Hemi Hellcat is only about 140 or so horsepower shy of the kind of power churned out by a NASCAR Sprint Cup car on racetracks from Daytona to Fontana, and only about 50 horsepower less than motors that power Nationwide Series cars.

That kind of horsepower isn’t just fast, it’s – sorry, Kevin Harvick, we couldn’t avoid it – freaky F-A-S-T.

On Wednesday, more news from the Dodge camp came out when MotorAuthority.com posted a story and spy photos of the new 2015 Dodge Charger SRT – which also will likely carry the 707-hp Hemi Hellcat motor.

The point we’re making here is simple: why would Dodge go to all the trouble and multi-million dollars of expense in development and production costs of making the bat-out-of-hell-fast Challenger and Charger unless the company had some serious marketing plans for the future?

Like bringing both models to NASCAR.

Think about it: Ford redesigned the Mustang and Chevy brought back the Camaro, and where did they wind up at?

In the Nationwide Series, up against the outdated Camry.

And what have the Mustang and Camaro been for Ford and Chevy dealers?

Sales magnets, thanks in part to being raced in NASCAR competition, albeit in the NNS junior league than the major league Sprint Cup circuit. (And if the Challenger or Charger do return to NASCAR, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mustang and Camaro potentially move up to Sprint Cup as well.)

Even with gas around $4-plus per gallon, U.S. drivers still want as much raw speed and power as they can buy. That’s why the Camaro and Mustang are among the most popular American-made muscle cars on the market today.

Dodge would be foolish not to come back to NASCAR to tout its new cars.

Where else could the manufacturer race (and sell) these types of potent pony cars?

The Challenger and Charger wouldn’t fit in Formula One, IndyCar or sprint cars (unless you took off the top and the fenders to make them “open-wheelers,” which isn’t likely to happen).

Sure, the Challenger and Charger might work in sports car and road course racing, but NASCAR is a built-in market with all the infrastructure necessary to make the Challenger and Charger not only welcome, but successful almost right out of the box.

We can easily see the Challenger join the Nationwide Series ranks, perhaps as early as 2016. And we can also see the Charger return to the Sprint Cup fold maybe by 2017, if not 2016 as well.

Again, we can’t say it enough: that’s strictly speculation on our part. Dodge hasn’t said a word about what may just as easily wind up only being a dream that will never come true.

But if Dodge truly does have well-kept secret designs of returning to NASCAR, it had better start working pretty soon on a production program for the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series, which typically takes 12 to 18 months to develop and build (much like when Ray Evernham led Dodge’s return to NASCAR, joining the company in 1999 before the first Intrepid hit the racetrack in 2001, succeeded by the Charger in 2006).

Here’s another thing to consider: It’s believed that Richard Petty Motorsports has one more year remaining on its current deal with Ford (reportedly through 2015).

According to a Motorsport.com report in early May, team owner Richard Petty reportedly has already met with officials of Ford (to potentially extend RPM’s current deal), as well as Toyota (about potentially leaving Ford when RPM’s current deal is up).

“We’ve got to look at our team and look at our circumstances,” Petty said less than two months ago when asked what RPM’s future plans are.  “We’ve got to look and say, ‘Okay, what’s going to be the best for us right now, what’s going to the best for us two years down the road, what’s going to be the best for us five years down the road?’”

Petty added: “We’re out looking and seeing what all the factories have got laid out for their future to see if we can fit into any of that.”

But what if Petty were to be the magnet to bring Dodge back to NASCAR, particularly with his long and legendary history with the company and the Hemi during his own racing career from the late 1950s to early 1990s?

It makes sense.

Heck, it more than makes sense, it’s a no-brainer.

And if Petty were to lead the charge and return to the Dodge fold, there’s likely at least two or three other smaller teams that could be viewed as prospective candidates that might be convinced to switch from their current powerplants and chassis — especially if Dodge offers significant incentives.

Among those that come to mind as potential targets for Dodge: Furniture Row Racing, Front Row Motorsports, JTG Daugherty, maybe even a team like Michael Waltrip Racing. Even Richard Childress Racing was rumored to be interested in Dodge, according to a FoxSports.com report back in late January (Childress denied the rumor)

And what about Andretti Autosport, which has reportedly expressed interest in expanding its IndyCar base (it has also branched out into sports cars and rally cars, even Formula E racing) into NASCAR?

Think about the publicity and attention bonanza that would result if two of the biggest and most legendary surnames in motorsports history — Petty and Andretti — were to align under the Dodge umbrella.

Again, we can’t repeat this enough: Dodge has not said anything about coming back to NASCAR. We’re only speculating here.

But if you add two-plus-two, believe in conspiracy theories, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and think you’re good at connecting dots, if you were some of the top honchos at Dodge, wouldn’t you want to use NASCAR as a huge showcase for your technology with the upcoming high performance Challenger and Charger?

Follow me @JerryBonkowski


Toto Wolff: ‘Early days’ in deciding 2017 F1 plans for Wehrlein, Ocon

(L to R): Esteban Ocon (FRA) Manor Racing with team mate Pascal Wehrlein (GER) Manor Racing.
04.09.2016. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Monza, Italy, Race Day.
© Manor Racing
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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff says it is “early days” in deciding the racing programs for junior drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon in 2017 as both look to move up the grid.

Wehrlein moved into F1 for 2016 after winning the DTM title with Mercedes last year, joining backmarker team Manor.

The German driver scored just its second top-10 finish in seven seasons at the Austrian Grand Prix in July, finishing 10th.

Ocon was drafted into the second seat at Manor after Rio Haryanto’s backing fell through, the Frenchman having also tested and completed practice runs with Renault earlier in the season.

Following Nico Hulkenberg’s move to Renault for 2017, a seat at the Mercedes-powered Force India team has now opened up, with both Wehrlein and Ocon being linked with a move up the field.

However, Wolff said that no firm decisions have yet been taken as options continue for both drivers to be explored.

“It’s still pretty much in coming together,” Wolff said.

“It’s a very interesting competition they are having within Manor and we are still evaluating the future and talking with a couple of teams, and working together for next year.

“But it’s still very early days.”

Ocon has been linked with a full-time race seat at Renault for 2017 alongside Hulkenberg, but would need to be released from his Mercedes contract should such a move take place.

Manor is likely to be the last team to decide on its driver line-up for 2017, with the likes of Haryanto and Jordan King also in contention for a seat should Wehrlein or Ocon move and free up a position.

Circuit of The Americas to honor late Lon Bromley on Saturday

14 Oct 2001:  Lon Bromley walks along with the rest of the Simple Green Safety Team during the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California.Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Ferrey  /Allsport
Bromley (lead) in 2001. Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Allsport (Getty Images Archive)
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AUSTIN, Texas – The late Lon Bromley, who was instrumental in racing safety and served a major role in the traveling CART Safety Team, will be honored today before Sunday’s United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas.

Bromley died earlier this month in a boating accident; a good tribute from a couple of my old colleagues, Anne Proffit and David Malsher, is filed here for Motorsport.com.

After his time with CART, Bromley was Director of Safety at Circuit of The Americas.

The FIA issued a press release Saturday morning confirming there’d be a commemorative minute of noise to honor his memory.

That release is posted below in its entirety:

Following the recent passing of Lon Bromley, Director of Safety at Circuit of The Americas, and to honour his memory, today at 12.30pm all cars crewed by circuit officials and all fire trucks will blow their horns in a commemorative minute of noise.

The remembrance is designed to signify Lon’s passion for racing, his love for a sport characterised by noise and power.

Prior to working at COTA, Lon acted as Director of Safety for the Champ Car series from 1987 to 2008. He was much in demand as an advisor and trainer on safety issues and will be sadly missed by all at the Circuit of The Americas and by the wider motorsport community in the US and internationally.

Matteo Bonciani
FIA Formula One Head of Communications & Media Delegate

Verstappen heads up Red Bull 1-2 in final USGP practice at COTA

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during final practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Max Verstappen closed out Formula 1 practice for the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas at the top of the timesheets, finishing two-tenths of a second clear of the field at the Circuit of The Americas ahead of qualifying.

Verstappen headed up a Red Bull one-two in FP3 as Mercedes failed to get in a qualifying simulation for either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg, leaving them fourth and fifth respectively in the timesheets.

Verstappen put in a fastest lap time of 1:36.766 with over 10 minutes remaining in the session, although the Dutchman did appear to exceed track limits at both Turn 19 and Turn 20 in the process.

Nevertheless, Verstappen’s time stood, giving him P1 come the end of the session despite a late charge from Hamilton.

The Briton crossed the line to start his final flying lap with one second left on the clock, but backed off through the final sector and told his team it was “really poor timing”.

Rosberg also failed to get in a flying lap, setting the fastest middle sector of any driver before abandoning his effort and coming into the pits with a minute left.

Daniel Ricciardo finished the session second for Red Bull, while Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was half a second off Verstappen in third place. Teammate Sebastian Vettel followed the Mercedes duo in sixth place.

Nico Hulkenberg continued his streak of top-10 finishes in practice at COTA, ending FP3 in seventh place ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. The McLaren pair of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10.

The session was red flagged after 20 minutes when Pascal Wehrlein’s Manor snapped off the track at Turn 19, becoming beached in the gravel. The German waited for the marshals to arrive at his car in the hope of being pushed back onto the track, but was ultimately forced to switch his car off and end his FP3 running.

Carlos Sainz Jr. was another driver to hit trouble in final practice, suffering two separate punctures in the hour-long session that limited him to just six laps in total.

The qualifying show for the United States Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12:30pm ET today, including a full re-run of FP3.

Mercedes’ Suzuka protest over Verstappen down to ‘miscommunication’

SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo locks a wheel under braking as he tries to overtake Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2016 in Suzuka.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff has revealed that the team’s brief protest over Max Verstappen’s second-place finish in the Japanese Grand Prix was the result of a “miscommunication”.

Mercedes contacted the FIA following the race at Suzuka on October 9 to lodge a protest against Verstappen, believing his on-track defence from Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps to have breached the sporting regulations.

Verstappen finished less than a second clear at the checkered flag, meaning a time penalty would gain Hamilton a position and three extra points in his bid for the drivers’ championship.

The FIA stewards informed Mercedes that a decision could not be made at Suzuka as both Hamilton and Verstappen had already left the track, postponing a hearing to the United States Grand Prix weekend in Austin.

Mercedes withdrew its protest not long after, making the result of the race official and leaving Verstappen in second place with Hamilton third.

Ahead of this weekend’s race in Austin, Wolff explained what caused the mix-up over the protest, saying that Mercedes had to make a split decision before leaving Japan.

“It was a miscommunication,” Wolff said.

“When we left the circuit, I said that the Verstappen manoeuvre was a hard manoeuvre but probably what we want to see in Formula 1. He’s refreshing and I think that the drivers need to sort that out among themselves on track.

“And we decided not to step in and then it was an unfortunate coincidence that we took off, we left. The team had a minute to decide whether to protest or not and that’s what they did.

“Once we were able to communicate again, which was 30 minutes after take-off, we decided to withdraw the protest.”