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Toyota vs Chevrolet vs Dodge? Who is jumping where?

Richard Petty lets Thomas Harkins Jr., the New York State Spelling Bee champion, check out one of his famous cowboy hats. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Richard Petty won't deny that hot speculation that he might be jumping from Dodge to Toyota, with Chrysler's bankruptcy having made such a dent in that company's financial support for NASCAR teams. In fact the King says yes indeed, things are "swirling."
   And where it all winds up, Petty concedes, is still uncertain.
   In fact Petty says he doesn't know what his team will look like in three weeks, much less next year.
   And he says he's open to just about anything right now. Petty points to the government's involvement in Chrysler as perhaps key to what happens next for his four teams.
   Of course Toyota is about the only option for Petty, and he may well have competition from Chip Ganassi for a deal. Ganassi's Chevy deal is apparently up, as of immediately; Ganassi's ace, if he is dealing with Toyota, would be Juan Pablo Montoya.
   So Toyota executives appear to be looking at several options:
   -- losing Team Red Bull, with Brian Vickers and Scott Speed, to Chevrolet, in what could be another Rick Hendrick satellite engine-engineering project;
   -- and adding either Petty and Kahne (Petty's other three drivers appear expendable), or Ganassi and Montoya.
   How NASCAR executives themselves play into any of this is up for debate. NASCAR of course would like to keep all four manufacturers on par, in terms of numbers of teams.
   Currently GM has 12 full-time Chevy teams in its fold. Ford has seven. Toyota has 13 to 15 Cup teams supported. Dodge has six teams.
   A problem here – the Richard Childress operation. He's got four major Cup teams, but two top sponsorships are up for renewal, and his four teams are struggling at the moment. Can he keep all four teams running? Some here wonder if Childress might be forced to cut back to two teams, which would be a severe shakeup.
   But then Teresa Earnhardt's DEI had four top Cup teams last season – all four in the top-35 no less – and yes she was forced to merge with Chip Ganassi when sponsorships failed to come through and she was just left with a single team.
   If Rick Hendrick winds up adding two more satellite teams, that would put eight Cup operations under his control. How would that set with NASCAR's Brian France? How would that set with Ford rival Jack Roush? And how would that set with Richard Childress, who has been supplying Chevy engines to Ganassi, through the Earnhardt-Childress engine company….Chevy engines that Ganassi would no longer need if he jumps to Toyota?
   There has been intense speculation that Petty might have Kahne in a Toyota in three weeks, when the tour runs at Chicago. Petty apparently still has only one of the new Dodge R6 engines.
   Petty's win Sunday at Sonoma, with Kasey Kahne, was Petty's first Cup tour win in 10 years. And it was no fluke. Kahne held off Tony Stewart the final four restarts.   
     But it wasn't Dodge's new R6 engine under Kahne's hood. Kahne did run it at Charlotte, and he says he'll run it here: "The engine itself is definitely better at low RPMs.  I feel like it shoots off the corner a little bit better."
    Eddie D'Hondt, who runs Alli Owens' small-budget ARCA team, says the cuts by Chrysler and General Motors will hurt the bigger teams more than the smaller teams, if only because the bigger teams were getting more money from Detroit.
   "Financial support from a manufacturer is figured into a team's budget, just like sponsorship money," D'Hondt says. "It's a fairly good size chunk of change, that comes in addition to technical support, sheet metal and other subsidies.
    "So everyone that's been supported by a manufacturer is definitely going to be affected when they pull back.
    "The upper-echelon teams tend to get a little more help, so they'll probably feel the hurt even more so.
    "The teams with bigger budgets are definitely going to have to cut back. I'm sure they’re going to have to make some changes to work within their new parameters.
     "I think you'll see the same racing…but they'll have to achieve it with fewer specialty people. You'll have fewer specialists and more people that are well-rounded."

Robbie Loomis (R) has been a key part of Richard Petty's racing operations for years...and now he's got something to talk about (here with Jeff Gordon's crew chief Steve Letarte) (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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