Ed Peper confident of Chevy's chances
Chevrolet fought back to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship this year after it appeared Toyota and Kyle Busch might bury Ford, Dodge and the bowtie brigade midway through the season.
Chevy's scrappy revival and Jimmie Johnson's stirring performance in winning the drivers title for Hendrick Motorsports didn't surprise Ed Peper, GM North American vice president of Chevrolet.
Peper realizes the Detroit Three are in a battle to survive as they await a rescue package from the Bush administration, but he also is looking forward to the 2009 Cup season, which starts at Daytona in February.
The Detroit Free Press caught up with Peper and asked about the coming season and the challenges facing racing in an era of economic uncertainty.
Question: As defending Sprint Cup champion, how is Chevy placed with Daytona just a couple of months away?
Answer: We obviously have some of the greatest teams: Hendrick and its stable of drivers; (Richard) Childress (Racing), which has been outstanding; and Tony Stewart-Haas Racing, which we feel will be very good. With DEI there, too, Chevy always has a chance to win. Tony (Stewart) never forgot where his heart was, and he is back with Chevrolet, where he always wanted to be.
Q: In view of tough times, manufacturers competing in NASCAR have cut their racing budgets, as have most teams in the series. Will there be more at Chevrolet?
A: We've already seen some pretty major cuts at Chevy -- cutting back on track agreements and marketing activities. We've got to get a lot meaner, leaner and smarter as we move ahead. We're going to look at every dime we spend, and what return we receive on it.
Q: Will fans notice much of a difference with Chevy in NASCAR in 2009?
A: Some. There'll be less signage at tracks. We'll have to be cleverer in what we do. Race fans will probably see less TV commercials but more Internet presence.
Q: Your favorite NASCAR moment in 2008?
A: Just the way Jimmie (Johnson) won the championship. Just the way he fired back. Everyone wrote us off, said Toyota was too good. But Chevy had heart. Jimmie was magnificent down the stretch.
Q: What changes do you see on the racing horizon? And will racing, in keeping with environmental challenges, need to go green?
A: There will be change, most certainly. The American Le Mans Series and the Indy Racing League -- they are already using diesel and ethanol in their cars. There's no reason NASCAR can't look at alternative fuels, and even hybrid engines. We have to be more green-focused.
Q: Why do you enjoy racing?
A: It's what we do. ... It's about the cars, winning, the excitement -- for the company and me. We win on the track and adopt what we've learned in product planning and in the showroom. Racing is about being creative and never giving up.
Q: Detroit took a bashing in Washington this past month. Can it get back on track?
A: The whole thing on Capitol Hill upset me. The Motor City, including GM and the others, will be back stronger than ever. GM makes fuel-efficient, high-quality cars. Some people in Washington had a problem understanding that. We've got to find better ways to reach the American consumer. Our business is all about product, and the quality of our cars has never been better.
Q: Can Chevy defend its NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in 2009?
A: I believe we can win it again. We have such a strong stable of drivers and cars. We're always in the hunt. Detroit Free Press