Manufacturers not leaving

Billion-dollar losses by the U.S. automakers, sagging sales, loss of market share to foreign manufacturers, soaring health-care costs and high fuel prices. Sounds like trouble for the sport of NASCAR racing, which relies heavily on support from automakers to keep fleets of Fords, Chevys and Dodges on the track. Not so, say the automakers' representatives at the race tracks. "This is the time, when you are in difficult situations, when in fact you rely on racing even more to move your product," said Dan Davis, director of Ford Racing Technology. "I don't think racing is in any jeopardy at this point or that the racing program is going to be somehow eliminated. In fact, it's possibly the opposite. When you have programs like racing that work, and you have limited funds, that's when you start to really rely on those areas. Racing works. We know it works. … It's solid as a rock." Alba Colon, Nextel Cup program manager for General Motors, said her company isn't planning any changes either. "We are very committed to the deal," Colon said. "We are committed to NASCAR, and we have long-term contracts with our teams."

Ray Evernham, who fields Dodge Chargers and is sponsored by Dodge, said he worries about the finances of his sponsor and the other auto makers, but he's confident they'll stick with him and NASCAR. "I still believe American manufacturers realize this is a place where they need to be," he said. "It's still the best bang for the marketing buck. That's why we have so many Fortune 500 companies in NASCAR."

But there is concern in NASCAR about the health of the U.S. auto manufacturers. "The withdrawal of any one manufacturer in the series can have awful consequences throughout the garage," Roush Racing president Geoff Smith said. "If any one decided not to play any more, there would be a number of teams that would immediately be underfinanced to be able to compete with the people that had the budget." Smith said he sees only two scenarios that would cause any of the Big Three or Toyota, which now competes in the Craftsman Truck Series, to leave NASCAR. One would be if global consolidation eliminates a nameplate. The second scenario that could cause manufacturers to leave NASCAR is if one gained a huge competitive advantage on the track. "Historically, if one manufacturer comes in and makes a big investment that the others think alters the playing field, they quit," Smith said. "That is part of NASCAR's challenge, to try to keep the economic playing field somewhat level, with no one party too low or too high." Smith and others say that even with the evolution of NASCAR rules, which has created a type of car that has little resemblance to those on showroom floors, the "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday" adage still applies. Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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