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Mike Accavitti's back in NASCAR! But he looks like he's carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders

   Dodge boss Michael Accavitti (L) and Kasey Kahne: So what's the deal on that Kahne-Toyota publicity shot? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Dodge's Michael Accavitti finally made it back to a NASCAR track, and the new head of the Dodge boys was quick to commit the 'new' Chrysler-Fiat to support of its NASCAR racing operations.
   Accavitti was once the company's NASCAR racing boss as the "director of the Dodge Brand and SRT marketing communications;" now he's the racing boss as the boss of bosses at Dodge: president and CEO of Dodge Brand, Chrysler Group LLC, since June.
   And if Accavitti appeared rather stiff and uncomfortable here Sunday – compared with his more fun-loving days in the sport, when he had fewer headaches – well he's got a lot more on his shoulders now: full "profit-and-loss responsibility" for all of Dodge….as well as responsibility for all marketing and advertising and world-wide strategies.
   Of course he's probably got just a touch of jet-lag too, from shuttling between Detroit and Fiat headquarters in Italy.
   Hey, maybe Accavitti can get Michael Schumacher over here into NASCAR in a Dodge, now that his Ferrari Formula One gig is up, and he's just turned 40? "Wouldn't that be nice," Accavitti said.
    Why gone so long?
   "It's been a while since I could get to a track. We've been busy, restructuring and launching the new Chrysler Corporation," Accavitt says.
   "We're very proud of Dodge's performance in NASCAR this year, with two guys – knock on wood – in the chase. We know it's too early to be smoking victory cigars, but we're in much better position than we were last year. And we're very proud of the work the Penske and Petty folks are doing for us.
   "Dodge remains committed to this sport. NASCAR people are performance-loving people, and Dodge people are performance-loving people. So it's a match made in heaven.
   "We want to continue to talk to the fans of NASCAR and continue to provide them with exciting days at the race track, which the Dodge drivers have been doing for us this year.
   "We intend to remain involve with the NASCAR sport for the foreseeable future."
    Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne are Dodge's two men in the chase at the moment.
    Listening to Accavitti, and comparing his comments here Sunday with previous discussions with him over the years, it's clear that the big agenda is different, that there is more pressure to perform, and not just on the NASCAR tracks.
   Does performance in NASCAR really pay off?
   "We don't have to sell this to anybody but me -- It's not that I have to convince anyone but myself," Accavitti says. "I don't want to just spend a lot of money to come out and have a nice Sunday afternoon.
   "We believe this is a wise investment. And we feel we're involved with NASCAR at the appropriate level (of financial support).
   "We're in this sport to win. And that's why we participate. That's why our fans follow us.
   "Last year we were disappointed in our results (no Dodge drivers made the playoffs). But we had some things going on that were causing some distractions. This year we've been able to focus."
   Accavitti then pointed to veteran NASCAR engineer Howard Comstock as the company's point-man at the track each weekend. "He's done a very formidable job this year of turning the teams around," Accavitti said.
   However what about that swirl of rumors and reports linking the Richard Petty-George Gillett operation to Toyota…including confirmation by Kahne of a photo shoot this week in a Toyota, for sponsor Budweiser?
    "I didn't see that photo…maybe my computer filter blocks that out," Accavitti said with a laugh.
   "Kasey is under an agreement with us; Kasey and Dodge have a long relationship, and a deep relationship (actually going back to the legal battle over Kahne's previous contract with Ford). I have the utmost respect for Kasey. His contract is with us, his contract is with Dodge, and he's made reference to that."
  And Petty's contract with Dodge is up at the end of the season. Will Accavitti renew his company's sponsorship of Petty-Gillett and their four teams?
    "We really shouldn't comment about things, when negotiations are taking place," Accavitti hedged. "We have a long history with Richard Petty; we have a long history Evernham Motorsports (the company that Petty and Gillett bought into; the company that led Dodge's return to NASCAR).
   "George Gillett and I talk frequently. We value them as partners. Kasey is one of our all-star drivers. And we value everything they're doing for us this year.
   "But beyond this year it would be premature for me to answer any questions about that."
   What about those missing Dodge payments to the Petty that Petty has complained about?
   "I can tell you the payment has been processed," Accavitti says. "Going through bankruptcy is not something we've ever done before, and it's not something we ever intend to do again.
   "So when you go through that, we're not familiar with all the processes. And invoices got caught up…and payments got delayed.
  "We reached out and talked with our teams to let them know 'We're not going to be able to pay you in the time schedule that we would have liked to.'
   "But all things are good now, all things are cleared.
   "And I did see an email that said of the Petty payments the check is in the mail. You'll have to check with them to see if it's arrived yet."
   If the Petty team does leave the Dodge fold, can Accavitti make do with just Roger Penske's two-car operation, or would Accavitti go looking for more NASCAR teams?
    "I don't know if seven (teams) is the right number, or if it's three or four," Accavitti said. "You really only need a couple or three good drivers and good teams, and that would be sufficient for us.
   "We'll strike the appropriate balance, so we can have a good Sunday afternoon for our Dodge fans – that's what it's really all about.
   "It's not 13 or 14 drivers; that doesn't seem to work. And we can't afford to do that any more."
 Dodge has seven teams this year; can it afford seven teams in 2010?
   "We could afford 43 cars….we'd just have to pay them all a little less," Accavitti cracked.
   "We think we're in the sport at the right level, with the seven teams.
   "We've tried it differently in the past. We've sponsored as many as 12 cars. But we found we were spreading our resources too thin. We're not a big organization…and we need to start acting the organization we are – small and nimble. We're smaller and more nimble than the other guys.
   "We feel if we focus our resources on fewer teams, we can produce better results. And that's what you're seeing on the track this year."
   Of course what Accavitti is referring to is the loss of the Chip Ganassi team, which switched to Chevrolet.
   However that cost Accavitti Juan Pablo Montoya.
   Dodge had 11 drivers at the start of 2008, and it not only went 1-2 in the opening Daytona 500 but it took eight of the top 15 spots in that event. From there, however, things didn't go so well. Ryan Newman, the Daytona 500, left for Chevrolet this year, and he is looking at making the playoffs. Dario Franchitti ran out of sponsorship midway through 2008 and went back to Indy-cars. Kyle Petty 'retired.'
Robby Gordon moved to Toyota. Bobby Labonte went to Ford.
      And what about the new relationship between Chrysler's new business partner, Fiat, with its Ferrari F1 history, and Dodge? Any synergies here, Ferrari and Dodge?
    Accavitti basically said no…surprisingly, considering the close technical ties that other NASCAR operations have with F1 engineering and engineers. Michael Waltrip's engineering director, for example, came over from Formula One. And there is considerable F1-caliber technology, in terms of parts and pieces, in NASCAR, and has been for several years.
   However Accavitti insists there is no particular racing tie now between Dodge and Ferrari….even though when the company was known as Daimler-Chrysler, the Dodge side boasted of its ties to F1's Mercedes arm.
    "Our relationship with Fiat is great; they're great partners, "Accavitti says. "And anything we could use, that NASCAR would allow us to use, we would.
   "Fiat, from a corporate standpoint, is offering us any technology they have available (part of the Fiat-Chrysler deal, orchestrated by President Obama, is to make more energy efficient street cars in the U.S.). And that would include anything in racing.
   "But anyone who follows Formula One understands these are two different series. You go to an F1 race and there are eight guys in labs coats, with laptops, working on the race car; over here you've got a guy with a screwdriver working on a carburetor.
   "Applicability of technology between the two series is not going to be readily apparent."
   But then Dodge hasn't won a NASCAR championship since 1975, when Richard Petty did it. Maybe it's time to step it up.
   "I will never be happy until I have that championship trophy sitting outside my office," Accavitti says.
   "But I will tell you this – I am infinitely happier than I was last year at this time."



Pondering Dodge

Is that Kahne in that photo? It doesn't look like him...that guy looks like he might be a skinnier brother of Matt Kenseth.

And Mike, Penske has three teams, not two. Wouldn't be interesting if Kahne leaves Petty because of the team's switch to Toyota and his personal contract with Dodge? I think Roger would show Stremme the door in a heartbeat if Kahne was available. The hitch there would be the Bud sponsorship - is it tied to the team, Kahne or both? For how long? And could Penske even have Bud on a car with arch-rival Miller already in-house?


Okay, so it's a two-year-old

Okay, so it's a two-year-old photo. I'll get mikemulhern.net photogs to give me some better stuff (LOL). Three teams? Bud and Miller Lite? Uh, now even Billy France Jr. would have a hard sell on that, donchathink
I like D. Stremme, and he's tried hard, but something isn't clicking. But then, hey, Roger has been doing NASCAR since 1972 and still doesnt have a championship, so something's missing.
Bud -- I'm not sure so that Inbev, or whoever that bunch is that owns Bud now, really cares about NASCAR. I think everyone wants to save the Bud sponsorship, but I think it's lost a cause. They'll cut the budget....especially if you look at how much they've gotten out of it lately.

I think Kasey will wind up as the third team with Tony Stewart in 2011.....and I also think that Tony is under some pressure to sign Danica Patrick to some deal, Nationwide, whatever, and I sense he's resisting that because of that 'ego' thing.


has InBev given any hints about NASCAR sponsorship since they bought the big Bud?

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