CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – General Motors has become the second of NASCAR’s four manufacturers to enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but industry leaders remain confident support will continue as the automakers shore up their finances.

“I’ve never wanted to race anything else, and I have every confidence that we will continue to celebrate victories together for many more seasons to come,” team owner Rick Hendrick said Monday, a day after Jimmie Johnson gave him his 180th win in NASCAR’s top series with a victory at Dover International Speedway.

“My Plan A is Chevrolet and my Plan B is Chevrolet and my Plan C is Chevrolet.”

GM joined Chrysler LLC, which fields Dodges in NASCAR, in Chapter 11 protection.

Chrysler filed April 30, and a judge on Sunday gave the company approval to sell most of its assets to Italy’s Fiat in a move that could help it exit from court protection as early as this week.

Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Toyota are the four participating automakers in NASCAR, and each manufacturer spends millions each season to fund its race teams. Ford and Toyota currently have the most financial stability, but neither automaker has escaped the global economic crisis unscathed and both have weathered cutbacks to the racing budgets.

But Chevrolet is NASCAR’s most successful manufacturer, with 32 championships in the premier Cup series. But the GM budget has been stretched thin for more than a year now, and last summer the automaker announced it wasn’t renewing contracts at four of the 12 tracks it sponsored.

It also moved to a year-to-year deal with Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR’s flagship track.

NASCAR chairman Brian France has remained confident that racing budgets will not suffer during the Chapter 11 restructuring, and noted during All-Star race activities two weeks ago that Dodge had conducted business as usual since its filing.

NASCAR also is tied to the auto companies through additional sponsorship deals ranging from large television advertising buys to race naming rights deals.

“Our hope and expectation is that we will fare at the top of the list as to things you would not want to cut. I believe that to be true,” France said. “They’re still going to be a company that needs to sell cars and trucks. We’re still the best place in the country to do that from a sponsorship standpoint and the related benefits that you receive.”

There were 16 Chevrolets in the 43-car field at Dover on Sunday, and Chevy drivers claimed seven of the top 12 spots. Johnson, the three-time defending series champion, won a thrilling late duel with fellow Chevrolet driver Tony Stewart to claim his second win of the season.

Hendrick, who has fielded Chevrolets for 25 years in NASCAR and owns 27 GM dealerships across the country, doesn’t expect a decline in Chevrolet performance post-Chapter 11.

“I have an unwavering faith in the company’s leadership team and our government’s commitment to support this reorganization,” he said. “After all of the efforts of the past several months, it’s unfortunate that bankruptcy has become the only option, but we at Hendrick Automotive Group and Hendrick Motorsports are certain that GM will emerge from this stronger and better equipped to compete than ever before.”

NASCAR has experience in automaker pullouts, operating from 1971 to 1980 with almost no factory support for its teams. Chevrolet and Ford returned, but Dodge did not make its comeback until 2001. Toyota became the fourth NASCAR participant – the Japanese automaker is eligible because it produces cars and trucks in the U.S. – with its 2007 entry into the Cup Series.

AP-ES-06-01-09 1827EDT

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