For decades, the success of NASCAR's brand of high-octane, fender-banging stock-car racing has been intertwined with the fortunes of the U.S. automotive industry. NASCAR victories represented a nod to Detroit's ingenuity. And showroom sales, in turn, were credited to the exploits on race day. As the marketing adage went: "What wins on Sunday, sells on Monday!"
But with the Big Three U.S. automakers struggling to survive, they have begun to dramatically scale back their financial involvement in NASCAR, threatening the economic model that has driven the sport's popularity. Other corporate sponsors that helped transform stock-car racing from a workingman's pastime into the country's dominant form of auto racing also are scaling back their investment as a result of the sagging economy. Some companies may not renew their commitments -- many of which run more than $10 million -- when current contracts expire.