One of the biggest names in open-wheel racing is considering launching a NASCAR team.
Sources close to Indianapolis-based Andretti Autosport say officials for the IndyCar Series team are talking to Dodge executives about putting a team in NASCAR next year.
An announcement, sources said, could come as early as the weekend of June 15 at the NASCAR event at Michigan International Speedway.
“I’ve heard this from enough people in the industry to know where there’s smoke there’s fire,” said Zak Brown, a Zionsville-based motorsports marketing consultant who represents some of the biggest sponsors in NASCAR and Formula One. “I think Andretti and Dodge have a serious interest in pursuing this.”
Andretti Autosport has three full-time cars in the IndyCar Series and is owned by former IndyCar driver Michael Andretti, son of 1967 Daytona 500 winner and open-wheel legend Mario Andretti.
Andretti officials preparing for the Indianapolis 500 this week have downplayed the possibility of joining NASCAR, but have not denied it.
“We don't have any comments or details on the NASCAR rumors. I can assure you we’re 100-percent focused on winning the Indy 500 with Chevrolet this weekend,” said Jade Gurss, Andretti Autosport director of corporate communications, on Wednesday morning.
But earlier this month, when asked about NASCAR, Gurss told reporters “Andretti Autosport is a business designed to always be open to new opportunities as a race team and as a sports marketing company.”
Sources close to the Andretti team don't think the leap to NASCAR would lead to a downsizing or otherwise affect its IndyCar Series team.
Dodge has confirmed that it is looking for a Sprint Cup team for 2013. A Dodge spokesman told IBJ this week that the auto manufacturer is still in the process of evaluating opportunities for next season and could not comment.
Dodge was sent searching for a NASCAR partner earlier this year when another IndyCar Series team, Team Penske, which also has a NASCAR team, announced it would be dropping Dodge after this season for Ford. Penske wanted a five-year deal and Dodge officials wanted a shorter commitment.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing is the other IndyCar Series team with a major presence in NASCAR.
Ganassi and Penske have had mixed results in NASCAR, and neither has managed to duplicate the success they’ve had in the IndyCar Series.
“It’s a difficult transition to NASCAR and some of the biggest and best teams in IndyCar and Formula One have found that out,” Brown said. “One thing Andretti has to realize is that making the transition to NASCAR will take time.”
But Brown doesn’t think Andretti will have much difficulty luring sponsors and raising money for a NASCAR initiative. It costs $17 million to $20 million annually to run a single car in NASCAR.
“Andretti Autosport is very good at marketing and sponsorship sales, and the Andretti name is very well known,” Brown said. “So I don’t think sponsorship money will be their biggest challenge.”