NASCAR surprise as Dodge announces exit from Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series

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Following the pending defection of its primary partner six months ago, Dodge has announced its departure from NASCAR racing at the end of the season.

Dodge currently races in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, with Penske Racing featuring cars in both divisions. Penske announced in February it will switch to Ford for the 2013 season.

Dodge, which earlier this year rebranded itself to SRT Brand and Motorsports, said the Penske move had an impact on the decision. SRT CEO Ralph Gilles said the company had been evaluating all its options for five months before making the decision on Friday.

''In the end, we simply couldn't develop the right structure to compete at the level and quality we are accustomed to,'' Gilles said. ''You have no idea how much we feel the pain. We're just as devastated as everybody else.''

Gilles did not rule out a return to NASCAR, and said the company's commitments in racing in Canada and the ARCA series would not change.

After a 25-year absence, Dodge returned to NASCAR competition in 2001.

''Dodge has been a great partner to NASCAR for many years, and they have been part of numerous memorable moments throughout our history,'' NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said. ''They made a business decision not to return in 2013, as they did in 1977 before returning in 2001. We wish them well and hope they again will choose to return to NASCAR at a later date.''

The move by Dodge comes just a week after NASCAR announced that it had approved the new Sprint Cup Series race car designs for next season for all four automakers running the series.

Gilles said the company would continue its support of Penske for the rest of the season.

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