Chrysler cuts budget, stays in NASCAR

Chrysler plans to slash its overall NASCAR budget by more than 30 percent in 2009, Dodge Motorsports director Mike Accavitti told ESPN.com on Thursday.

That reduction is due in part to the team-merger between Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing, which removes Ganassi's former three-team Sprint Cup operation from the Dodge fold. (Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing will run Chevrolets.)

But Dodge will also cut back on at-track car displays, track sponsorships and promotions. It will, though, continue to support Penske Racing, Gillet Evernham Motorsports and Petty Enterprises as planned, Accavitti said.

"We'll definitely be on the track in 2009," Accavitti said in a phone interview.

Chrysler announced Wednesday it would, starting Friday, shut down all 30 US-based manufacturing plants for a month. Accavitti said that will have no bearing on any NASCAR relationship.

"First off, we had scheduled a [two-week] holiday shutdown, anyway. That part always finds its way out of the story," Accavitti said. "We're just extending that for a couple weeks. The reason is the general, overall softening of the automotive market.

"And we need to get our inventories in line with the selling rate out in the economy. Obviously, as a businessman you'd rather have your factories running over time than being shut down, but this is something we need to do to adjust our inventory levels.

"As far as NASCAR is concerned, the idling of the plants really doesn't have any direct effect on our NASCAR racing program."

Accavitti said Dodge evaluates return-on-investment annually "on every dime spent on NASCAR" to determine whether NASCAR should remain part of its advertising plan.

Some wonder how cash-strapped automakers can choose to spend on auto racing when the market is so poor. To date, Accavitti said NASCAR has helped move product. And, he continued, there is but one way out of the current abyss: sell more cars.

"You need to advertise your product. There's one way out of the situation we're in, and that's to sell your way out of it," Accavitti said. "It is a debt-spiral if we stop advertising and expect to sell any vehicles. It's a proven fact -- advertising sells vehicles. NASCAR is a form of advertising.

"We feel we have an appropriate spending effort in NASCAR. That's the important thing. We have things that people that buy Dodge cars and trucks are very passionate about. NASCAR is one of them. We sell a lot of trucks, a lot of minivans and a lot of Dodge Chargers to NASCAR fans."

Marty Smith covers NASCAR for ESPN.com.