Talk about a sensitive subject.

General Motors' decision to cut its support for Chevrolet teams competing in NASCAR's Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series rippled through the garage at Michigan International Speedway, but only Dale Earnhardt Jr., who shares ownership in his JR Motorsports team with Rick Hendrick, seemed willing to talk about the funding cuts in depth.

Kevin Harvick, who faces a double whammy as the owner of both Nationwide and truck teams under the Kevin Harvick Inc. banner, released a terse statement and refused further comment.

"Kevin Harvick Inc. has lost its manufacturer support," Harvick said. "Although this will require some internal restructuring, our commitment to our sponsors to provide the best possible product on the racetrack will not change."

Most Chevrolet teams will not be affected by the loss of support, because the smaller teams didn't receive factory assistance in the first place. Only substantial organisations such as KHI, JR Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing and Rusty Wallace Inc. are among the fortunate few who, up until this week, have benefitted from GM's largesse.

Earnhardt says JR Motorsports will have to compensate for the loss of Chevy's contribution, which is a small part of the operating budget. (Chrysler and Ford cut their support to teams competing in the two series before the 2009 season began.)

"The sponsorships obviously are the biggest part of our budget," Earnhardt said Friday after Sprint Cup practice. "Our relationship with Chevrolet was more about brand loyalty. I've been with them for so long (that) I don't really think we even negotiated with them on the manufacturing support.

"It was a good assistance to our programme, albeit it was not a very large portion of our entire funding for the season. Obviously, I would assume for some programmes it would be a lot more. For example, maybe (Kevin) Harvick was really dependent on the manufacturer support. We were dependent upon it, but we will find other ways to make that up, and I think it will be pretty feasible to be able to do that."

Childress said Friday that he hasn't been notified of the loss of support, but he is likely to get the bad news at a meeting with Chevrolet representatives next week.

"The technical support is huge, but the key thing I think everybody has to remember is they're not in this sport just to have a hobby," Childress said. "They sell cars, and this is a great tool for General Motors to sell cars. I think, once they get through this bump in the road, you're going to see 'em back here, because it's a great platform to sell American cars."

Given that General Motors currently is restructuring under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection - with the United States government, at least for the time being, as its primary shareholder - nothing is off limits in the quest to find cost-saving measures.

"It's not just racing," said GM Racing's NASCAR group manager Pat Suhy, who fielded questions from reporters in the Cup garage Friday morning. "It's everywhere, from manufacturing and engineering, all the other sales and marketing activities - we're going through a reinvention. We're going to find out where we come out of it on the back end, and continue to be successful here and elsewhere.

"We're looking at everything. In broad terms, there's not going to be any stone left unturned."

Jim Hunter, NASCAR vice president of corporate communications, said he didn't think the GM cuts would have a negative effect on the quality of racing in the series.

"It's no secret that's GM's restructuring its business, and as a result, it's not surprising that anyone connected to the company will be affected. We certainly hope they rebuild the company to meet the changing economy. Obviously, Chevrolet has millions of fans, and they want to see Chevys successfully compete.

"I don't think it will affect competition, which is better than it's ever been. We expect competition to remain as good as it's been in the first half of the season. Our fans are loyal, the most loyal in sports, and our racing still provides the best marketing opportunity in sports. I think our fans are still going to want to see Chevrolets on the track."

In reality, the cuts may help the smaller teams that are accustomed to operating without factory support. Earnhardt says he doesn't expect sympathy from those who manage to compete without additional funding from the manufacturers.

"Obviously, the support that Chevy was able to provide us was, in a lot of ways, a privilege only to a few teams," he said. "Not everybody has had that support. So you see a lot of other guys that are getting to the racetrack without that kind of manufacturer support. To me, it was always a feather in your cap, and never take it for granted.

"We'll be able to try to do some unique programs with our sponsors and future partners to try to cover that expense, but I personally in no way feel that it's changed my relationship or my perception toward Chevrolet and how I'll work with them in the future."

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News


Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment