NASCAR pleased GM out of bankruptcy
JOLIET, Ill. -- The swift exit of General Motors from bankruptcy protection was good news for NASCAR's industry leaders, who count on the automaker's financial support to fund their pricey race teams.
GM emerged Friday after only 40 days under court protection. The sport's heavyweights like Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all drive Chevrolets. It's also NASCAR's most successful manufacturer, with 32 championships in the Sprint Cup series.
Hendrick Motorsports standout Jimmie Johnson has won the last three Cup championships in Chevrolets, and team owner Rick Hendrick has long expressed his support of GM, even as the automaker sunk into bankruptcy.
Hendrick vice president of development Doug Duchardt said Friday that Hendrick Motorsports never wavered in its support.
"We've raced Chevys for 25 years," Duchardt said at Chicagoland Speedway. "This is just one situation. We've worked through it and we'll move on down the road."
Duchardt, the former head of GM Racing, was surprised at how quickly the car company escaped bankruptcy. GM notified teams last month that it would cut back spending after filing for Chapter 11 protection. Duchardt said there changes made to their agreement after meeting with GM officials, but expected no further adjustments to their contract
"We're happy that they committed to us in the middle of all that," Duchardt said. "Now that the bankruptcy is over, it doesn't really change anything after we had that meeting."
Duchardt said NASCAR remains a strong marketing investment and the auto manufacturer is still committed to the sport.
Martin crew chief Alan Gustafson said he noticed no detrimental changes in GM's product.
"They just got into a bad situation with the economy and banks and the fuel economy," he said. "I think the good news for all of us is GM's never built better cars."
GM left bankruptcy protection leaner, cleansed of massive debt and burdensome contracts that would have sunk it without federal loans.
STEWART'S ANNIVERSARY: Tony Stewart's ownership gamble paid off.
Stewart arrived at Chicagoland last year to announce why he was bolting Joe Gibbs Racing to join Haas-CNC as an owner-driver. One year later, it's hardly seemed like such a big risk -- he has two points victories and leads the Sprint Cup standings.
He signed Ryan Newman to the renamed Stewart-Haas Racing team, and he sits in seventh place in points. Both drivers are near locks to make the 12-car Chase for the championship field.
"It would be a staggering accomplishment for either of us," Newman said. "Part of our goal was for both cars to be in the Chase."
Stewart said he couldn't have envisioned all this success a year ago.
"I was about half scared to death," Stewart said. "I had made a decision at this point that was definitely a life-changing decision and a career-path decision for sure. We thought we had an idea of what it was going to be like and it hasn't disappointed us, but its been smoother than I thought it was going to be."
Stewart credited crew chief Darian Grubb and the rest of the No. 14 team for results as strong as they were when he was winning two Cup championships with JGR. His organization has also been boosted by an affiliation with powerful Hendrick Motorsports.
Instead of worrying about assembling a team, Stewart is focused on winning another title.
"I don't think there's any other team, if they were leading the points, wouldn't feel like they have a shot at it at this point," he said. "I feel like we have just as good of a shot as anybody else that's out there right now."
MONTOYA, TOO: There must be something about Chicagoland Speedway and big announcements.
Juan Pablo Montoya was introduced three years ago here by team owner Chip Ganassi. Montoya left a lucrative Formula One career to make the transition to Cup racing, and finally seems to be hitting his stride with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, entering Saturday night's race 11th in the points standings. The Colombian has never made the Chase for the championship.
"We're getting more competitive, and right now where we are in points is all about surviving and bringing the car home every week and see what happens," Montoya said.
EGR took a blow this week when Martin Truex Jr. decided to bolt the team at the end of his contract and drive next season with the upgraded Michael Waltrip Racing.
Montoya said he was too focused on himself to worry about where Truex would end up.
"If he wanted to go and he thinks he has got more stability at Waltrip's, you know, good for him," he said. "Hopefully he runs better there than he is here."
PIT STOPS: Matt Kenseth and his wife, Katie, celebrated the birth of their daughter on Monday. They named her Kaylin Nicola Kenseth. "You get very little sleep the first couple of days, but it's been really good," he said. ... The former Jeff Gordon Racing School has been rebranded as the NASCAR Racing Experience. The agreement brings an authentic racing experience to NASCAR fans, its sponsors and business partners at tracks across the country. ... Gordon wants another shot at singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" after butchering the lyrics during a previous appearance at Wrigley Field (or as he called it, "Wrigley Stadium"). "We want to clear our name around the Chicago area, so I'd like to come here and do a nice sweep of the race and maybe one day get the opportunity to go back and do the seventh-inning stretch song," he said. "I've become a bigger baseball fan because of that."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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