NASCAR

McGEE: After bombshell announcement, Pontiac goes out with a whimper

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Ryan McGee

 
   
 
Despite two of the last three Cup titles, Pontiac goes to NASCAR's junkyard
When the checkered flag falls at Homestead three weekends from now, Pontiac will be gone. Kaput. See ya. Headed to the scrap heap to take its place amid other burned out vehicles in the graveyard of "Hey, didn't you used to be a race car?"

From the beaches of Daytona to Richard Petty's final laps, the car with the cool red logo has been a near constant on NASCAR tracks since the 1950's. But now it will stand alongside Hudson, Buick, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Lincoln, Studebaker, Nash and the AMC Matador in the land of misfit rides.

One day you're building excitement... the next you're being used as a crash double for "2 Fast 2 Furious".

"It is a little hard to believe," says , the last driver to win a Winston Cup race behind the wheel of a Pontiac. "When we made the switch (from Ford this year), one of the first things I did was learn about Pontiac's history in the sport. To think that is ending now is hard to get used to."

Long the redheaded stepchild to Ford and Chevy, Pontiac has operated in their shadow and with a resulting numbers disadvantage since its reintroduction into NASCAR's elite series in the early 1980's. While Chevy and Ford punched out dozens of wins each season, Pontiac was lucky to scrape together more than five.

When a driver would finally put together a superstar season in a Grand Prix, he always seemed to jump ship shortly thereafter. In 1993, Pontiac won its first manufacturers' title in 31 years behind the strength of 's 10 wins. In 1994, Wallace switched to Ford. Two of the last three seasons, and won Winston Cup championships in Pontiacs owned by Joe Gibbs Racing. This year, they jumped to Chevy. And when Dodge arrived in 2001, Bill Davis Racing and Petty Enterprises took their five cars and left Pontiac in a mad scramble for teams.

"They've always been overshadowed a bit," says Wallace, who won the 1989 Winston Cup title in the Kodiak Grand Prix. "But they were sure good to me. I won a lot of races with those guys. When we decided to switch to the Ford Thunderbird in 1994, it wasn't any hard feelings against Pontiac. We just felt like it was something we needed to do."

Entering 2003, the Grand Prix roster totaled just four teams -- Craven at PPI Motorsports, and with MBV/MB2, with Morgan-McClure and rookie with rookie team Haas-CNC Racing.

Admittedly, the preseason lineup wasn't quite the Monsters of the Midway, but no one could have predicted the struggles ahead. In a combined 161 races this season, Pontiac teams have picked up just one win, five top fives and 14 top 10's. The win, three of the top fives and eight of the top 10's belong to Craven, the highest-ranked Pontiac driver at 24th in points.

Nadeau was hurt badly at Richmond in May; Sprague was fired by late summer and Morgan-McClure has used more drivers than a dozen Miss Daisys. Benson, picked by many as a sleeper title contender, is 27th in points and has already been told to find a job elsewhere in '04.

So, should we really be surprised at Pontiac's decision to walk away?

"Given Pontiac's long association with NASCAR and our many great accomplishments over the years, the decision to withdraw from NASCAR was not an easy one," said Lynn Myers, general manager of Pontiac-GMC, in a written statement that was part of Tuesday's bombshell announcement. "Consistent with GM efforts to focus its racing programs, Chevrolet will carry the NASCAR banner while Pontiac can now devote resources to developing future racing and marketing programs consistent with our new performance products, including the GTO, Grand Prix Comp G, G6 and the GXP performance series."

When Dodge arrived onto the scene three seasons ago, Ford and General Motors found the ante suddenly upped by the deep German pockets of Daimler-Chrysler. When Toyota makes the move to Winston Cup over the next five years, the ante won't just be upped... it will be launched into the thermosphere on a rocket.

In order for GM to compete, there can be no split resources. And in the company's headquarters and car dealerships, Chevy will always be Chevy and everyone else will always be... well, not a Chevy.

My first car was a 1979 Oldsmobile Delta 88. In 1992, Olds called it quits after an era that began with the very first NASCAR race in 1949. My second car was a 1986 Pontiac Grand Am. And when the last Pontiac is packed up at Homestead in November, another part of my youthful connection to the sport will disappear over the horizon with it.


Ryan McGee is the managing editor of and on Fox Sports Net. He can be reached at his e-mail address: rmcgee@foxsports.com.
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  • Busch Beat
    Pontiac's last major NASCAR title may come from, of all places, the Busch Series. rolls into Phoenix as the series point leader, but by a margin of only 13 points over .

    The Busch champ hasn't won the title behind the wheel of a Pontiac since Chuck Bown in 1990. In all, Pontiac owns at least a share of four Busch championships -- with Bown, Larry Pearson in 1986 and twice with Jack Ingram in 1982 and 1985. In '82, Ingram drove both Pontiacs and Chevys.

    Truck Stop
    The first five trips to Phoenix for the Craftsman Truck Series brought just two different winners -- and . Since then it's been a bunkhouse stampede with five different winners in five races.

    PIR holds the NCTS record for multiple race winners with four. However, the only former Phoenix winner in the field Friday afternoon on SPEED at 5:30 p.m. ET will be , who won this race one year ago. He'll start on row one outside of pole sitter/title contender .

    The Why We Call Richard Petty "The King" Fact of the Week
    Race fans that started following NASCAR anytime after the mid-80's remember The King as a Pontiac driver. Truthfully, he drove everything this side of an Edsel.

    One hundred thirty-nine of his 200 career wins came in a Plymouth, followed by 37 with Dodge, nine with Ford, six with Chevy, five with Pontiac, three with Buick and one with Oldsmobile. Number 200 came in a Pontiac Grand Prix at Daytona on July 4, 1984.

    Totally NASCAR Who's Hot, Who's Not
    You wouldn't believe the e-mails I received two weeks ago when I suggested that could easily win the last five races of the season. Well, folks... that's two down and three to go. The four-time champ is serving notice for 2004.
    Pontiac teams: Morgan-McClure, MBV/MB2, PPI Motorsports and Haas-CNC Racing have combined for one win (Craven at Darlington), five top fives, and 14 top 10's in a combined 161 races this season. And now General Motors is coming to take away their cars. Yikes.
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