The 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series will most likely be contested by just Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet after General Motors announced that it would not be supporting its Pontiac brand beyond the end of the 2003 season.

The surprise move comes as a blow to the five full-time teams that currently use the Pontiac Grand Prix bodyshell, several of whom have transferred from other makes after having to play second fiddle to the major multi-car Winston Cup teams using Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge bodyshells.

MB2/MBV Motorsports, Morgan McClure Motorsports, PPI Motorsports and Haas CNC Racing are the only current teams using Pontiac's even though the manufacturer has won two of the last three NASCAR Winston Cup titles with Bobby Labonte (2000) and Tony Stewart (2002). However after losing Joe Gibbs Racing to Pontiac's sister GM brand Chevrolet over the winter, Ricky Craven's stunning win at Darlington in March is the only Pontiac win so far in 2003.

Veteran driver Johnny Benson, who currently drives the #10 MBV Motorsports Valvoline Pontiac and has driven Pontiac's for most of his eight year NASCAR Winston Cup career, was surprised and dismayed by the decision.

"This is a surprise," said the Michigan native, who won his only NWC race to date in a Pontiac at the North Carolina Speedway in November 2002. "I have driven a Pontiac in all but two seasons since I started in '95. I might have driven the most races of anyone in a Pontiac in recent years.

"Obviously, I have mixed emotions hearing this news. I guess it is disappointing we are going to lose a car in the series. If General Motors isn't going to support the Pontiac next season then I doubt you will see too many teams running Pontiacs. I would guess that most of the Pontiac teams will switch to Chevrolets and I hope GM continues to support them the way they did when they were running Pontiacs.

"You know we heard some rumours at the beginning of the season about Pontiac not continuing. But, I don't think anyone would have guessed that it would come this soon. I suspected they would eventually throw all their support behind the Monte Carlo but I figured it would be in a few years. The Pontiac was a good make. I think they were always just a touch behind, not a lot behind the Monte Carlo and others. But it was a good car and it was a pleasure to drive for them."

The move to consolidate their efforts behind the more historically significant Chevrolet brand is further proof that Toyota's future arrival on the Nextel Cup scene is being taken very seriously indeed by all the manufacturers currently participating.



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