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GM Woes Spread Concern In NASCAR

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 3 2009

ChevyBy John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Fort Worth, Texas – President Barack Obama lowered the broom earlier this week on General Motors chairman/CEO Rick Wagoner,  forcing him out of his high-profile role in a “restructuring” that has not fully caught up with NASCAR.

Perhaps it never will. The effect the government’s intervention into the private sector might have relative to stock car racing remained open to debate Friday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Samsung 500. That was especially so for drivers who wheel Chevrolets in the Sprint Cup Series.

“This country can’t survive without the auto industry, you know?” said Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Impala SS for Richard Childress Racing. “It’s like I’ve said before – if they go under, we’re walking. We don’t drive, you know, we walk.

“General  Motors and all the auto industry is obviously hurting. And they have a lot to do with this sport. So we have to make sure that we go out there and do everything that we can do to help the auto industry. They’re going to figure it out.”

Wagoner, 56, stepped down after a 32-year career with GM. He has been replaced by Fritz Henderson, the company’s vice chairman and CEO. The Associated Press reported the management shake-up is proof the Obama administration is serious about forcing GM to change more quickly and dramatically than it did during Wagoner’s nearly nine-year tenure. Bottom line _ over the past four years, GM has piled up $82 billion in losses. That roughly translates into a lot-full of unsold SUVs…the size of Rhode Island.

Wagoner said in a statement  he was asked to “step aside” during a meeting with Obama administration officials last Friday, and he consented.

“Everybody understands the economic troubles our country is having and the world is having,” said three-time and reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports. “You break it down to motor sports and how important the manufacturers are – what the manufacturers get from racing. We need them. We need each other. It’s affecting our lives, our livelihoods, our families and our sport that we care for and love, so that stuff gets everybody’s attention.

“Hopefully, over time, we’re able to show how important racing is for the manufacturer. And if there are any critics that don’t believe in that, we can change their minds and show them.”

Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon, a four-time series champion, is fully-vested with GM as owner of a dealership.

“I keep about as close of tabs on it as I do any of my investments,” said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont/National Guard GED Chevy. “That’s an investment and it’s something that is a little bit more personal because I drive and race a Chevrolet.

“I mean, I’m definitely concerned about it. I’m concerned no more from the fact that I want to see them do well. It’s as much for General Motors as it is for all American car makers, and looking at how many people they employ in our economy. So I’m way more concerned from that aspect (than) from a racing standpoint.”

Gordon believes Chevrolet should want to remain in NASCAR.

“I certainly do,” said Gordon, whose 81 career Cup victories rank sixth on the all-time list. “I don’t want to drive anything other than a Chevy. Certainly been doing this a long time (since 1993 fulltime with HMS) and they’ve been so good to me and we’ve won a lot of races and championships with Chevrolet. So, I don’t want to go any other direction or drive anything else to Victory Lane. I think there’s a much bigger issue right now with the economy, and from a business standpoint for them and our nation and global than there is for racing. We’ll deal with that if we have to.”

Superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr., also of Rick Hendrick’s stable, said he finds the decision-making in Washington, D.C., “fascinating.”

“Everything that goes on seems that it is split down the middle of who likes it and who don’t like it,” said Junior, driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Impala SS. “So it’s really challenging for a person like me to see and understand what was the best decision.”

That said, Earnhardt declared he wasn’t concerned about Chevrolet’s continued involvement in the sport. “No. Their situation to me is no more severe or serious than it was a year ago,” Junior said. “People have such short-term memories on everything and it’s frustrating. They were in a tough position last year and they’re working really hard to monitor and remedy the situation. I’m just as concerned as I was last year. I feel like there’s been a lot of positives in the last six months as well that are giving me a lot of inspiration and hope that the situation is going to get better, especially for Chevrolet.”

Jeff Burton, who is Bowyer’s RCR teammate, believes that despite the staggering debt load and bad press, The General will bounce back via incoming inventory.

“I know that General Motors is working really hard to have a company that’s viable and that has products that Americans want,” said Burton, driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevy. “I’ve got a peek at what’s coming in the future and General Motors has an incredible car lineup coming. My biggest thing about the whole GM-Chevrolet issue is getting people where they can afford to buy cars again. I really believe if you look at what Chevrolet and General Motors have done and are doing with their cars that if you go look at one, you’re going to like them. My biggest issue about all of that is just getting the economy moving so people can buy cars again – that’s the biggest issue.

“I know that it’s a difficult time, but I believe that they will come back…but it’s going to take a while.”

In the interim, Burton said team principals like Childress – a longtime Chevy devotee certainly have been looking at their “worst-case scenario” options.

“I think those things (meetings) have already happened,” Burton said. “I think the climate that we’re in today it would be poor business to not look at worst-case scenarios. That’s not to say that we believe a worst-case scenario is coming. But if you turn the news on you can’t help but notice that it needs to have attention paid to it. Not only from that standpoint, but from the entire company standpoint with all of its sponsors and all of its partners.

“Our sport is driven by sponsors and fans being able to participate, and when the economy gets bad it gets harder for those two groups to participate. I think that throughout the company, and always, we have to be looking at worst-case scenarios. I don’t think we have an option.”

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 3 2009
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