Dodge seeking balance in 2012

Manufacturer wants to build off Brad Keselowski's stellar season

jutter@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 17, 2012 

This is the final installment of a four-part look at the entries in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series the four manufacturers - Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota and Dodge - plan to field in the 2012 season.

Dodge may have been the most efficient manufacturer in the Cup series in 2011.

At most, three drivers - Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch from Penske Racing and driver/owner Robby Gordon - fielded Dodge entries on a regular basis last season.

Keselowski and Busch both made the Chase for the Cup. It was Keselowski's first appearance and he finished a career-best fifth in the series standings.

Busch and Penske Racing parted ways in the offseason, so Keselowski starts the 2012 season with a new teammate in A.J. Allmendinger, a formal open-wheel driver who moved to NASCAR in 2007.

Allmendinger got off to a rough start in stock racing with Red Bull Racing, but has made significant progress the past three seasons at Richard Petty Motorsports.

Keselowski's No. 2 Dodge team remains intact and the crew chief with whom he won the Nationwide title in 2010 - Todd Gordon - moves to the Cup side and will work with Allmendinger.

Robby Gordon again plans to field Dodges this season, but is still seeking sponsorship to run the entire 36-race schedule.

Both Keselowski and Allmendinger will represent the manufacturer in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway, the unofficial start to the 2012 season.

Q&A with Beth Paretta

Paretta is the director of marketing and operations of Street and Racing Technology (SRT) for Chrysler Group LLC.

Q. How do you hope to build off the success of Penske/Dodge last season?

Our motorsports program in NASCAR was very successful in 2011 and this season could be even better. Dodge had two drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Brad (Keselowski) is a proven winner and we're confident A.J. (Allmendinger) will come right in and be a winner. We think both drivers are capable of making the Chase.

Brad had five wins in the Nationwide Series last season following his championship in 2010 and Sam (Hornish Jr.) got his first win in the series driving a limited schedule. We're confident that Sam will compete for the championship in the Nationwide Series this season.

Q. How does the addition of AJ Allmendinger change the organization's driver dynamic?

Dodge is excited to have A.J. Allmendinger join Penske Racing in 2012. A.J. brings a dynamic flair and skill to the No. 22 team that will be an excellent fit with new crew chief Todd Gordon. He is hungry as ever and his competitive driving style mirrors the performance attitude of the Dodge team.

Q. How will the addition of a full-time Nationwide team with Sam Hornish Jr. help the organization?

Our objective remains the same: win races and compete for championships. We look to Penske Racing to develop the teams to achieve those objectives. Sam is a proven winner in open-wheel racing and claimed his first Nationwide win last year. We think Sam will be a championship contender in the series this year. We're equally excited that a second Dodge Challenger will compete full-time in the Nationwide Series with Brad Keselowski and Parker Kligerman driving.

Q. Does Brad Keselowski's performance in 2011 show Penske/Dodge is capable of a Cup championship in 2012?

Absolutely. Our objectives are to win races and compete for championships. Both Dodge teams from Penske Racing made the Chase for the Sprint Cup last season. We had five wins along with 18 top-five and 30 top-10 finishes. The competition on the track never gets easier but we think that this season can be even better.

Q. How has the transition to EFI gone for Penske/Dodge?

Most of the engineers currently working on the Dodge program have had previous production car experience and are well versed in developing engines with EFI. In addition, Penske Racing brings extensive race car EFI experience to this NASCAR initiative. We're confident those combined efforts have produced a competitive package.

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