Dodge unveils new car at Vegas

LAS VEGAS -- Dodge Motorsports president Ralph Gilles said Dodge is moving forward and hopes to remain in NASCAR despite losing Penske Racing as its signature team.

Gilles spoke Sunday morning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after the unveiling of the 2013 Dodge Charger Sprint Cup car. Two weeks ago, Roger Penske announced his two-car Dodge team (Dodge's only major team) was switching to Ford in 2013.

"It was unexpected, to be honest," Gilles said of Penske's decision. "But we've been knocked down a few times in our history and we've come back."

Gilles said he already has heard from several NASCAR teams who are interested in switching to Dodge next year.

"With the way our phone is ringing, I'm not too concerned," Gilles said. "It's been a pretty positive thing. With every storm there's a sunny day later."

But Gilles would not say for certain Dodge would remain in NASCAR in 2013.

"Based on the momentum we've developed, we don't feel it's going that way," Gilles said about the possibility of leaving. "We would love to stay if we can, but we have to figure it out. We're actually investing in NASCAR more than ever.

"Some of this timing (of Penske's announcement) was unfortunate. Some things Roger didn't realize we were doing are coming to pass."

Gilles was asked why Penske opted to leave Dodge for Ford.

"You'd have to ask Roger, but I think it was more about a long-term commitment," Gilles said. "We weren't willing to do a five-year type of deal. We wanted to stay loose a little bit."

Richard Petty Motorsports, a two-car team in its final contract year with Ford, has been mentioned as a possible new team for Dodge, but Gilles said they are a long way from any decisions on 2013.

"Right now, as they say, we're keeping all our options open," Gilles said. "We're putting a list together and setting up meetings in the coming months. But we also have to look at the whole business model of how we approach NASCAR to see where we go from here."

Gilles hopes to make a decision on a new team within the next four months.

''I would say mid-summer," Gilles said. "It's been overwhelming the amount of interest we've had from people that want to be in our cars."

Unlike the other three Cup manufacturers (Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota), Dodge has only one major team with Penske. Gilles said that could change in the future.

"We just don't know," Gilles said. "I'd love to sit at a bar with you guys and discuss it. It's a big deal to go about how we re-invent it. There are still some privateers (one-car teams) we support, like Robby (Gordon), but we're going to have fun with this and see where it takes us."

One problem for Dodge is it needs a team that has an engine program, or a team that can develop one with Dodge, because Penske Racing has its own engine program that Dodge was using.

"We have a lot of talented engineers who can develop high horsepower engines," Gilles said. "What people don't realize is a lot of the engine design and specifications have been done on the inside (at Dodge headquarters in Michigan). Now it's really more about the (potential new NASCAR team's) facilities. It's just a matter of making the right decision."

All four NASCAR manufacturers are going to a new car design next year with models that are much closer to the actual look of the street cars. The Charger unveiling Sunday came next to the street version, showing how similar the race car looks to the production model.

Gilles said it's been an enormous project to make the 2013 race cars look like street cars again while also keeping them aerodynamically equal on the race track.

"Our wind tunnel was on overtime trying to figure this car out, more than almost making a normal street car," he said. "There were so many ways to get it wrong. You have to walk a fine line and not get NASCAR too worried. I think everyone's happy."

NASCAR president Mike Helton spoke at the unveiling Sunday, which came in front of hundreds of race fans in the LVMS Cup garage.

"We know NASCAR fans are car enthusiasts,'" Helton said. "So are we. When we look back at 2013, it will be a big statement by the car companies involved. They have put the energy behind making these (race) cars look like cars."