With top NASCAR crew chief Ray Evernham as its point man, Dodge will return to Winston Cup racing in 2001 after 16 seasons on the sidelines.
DaimlerChrysler, the parent company of Dodge, announced Thursday that the Evernham-owned team would receive full factory support.
Evernham, who resigned last month after guiding Jeff Gordon to three championships in seven seasons, says he will have a two-car operation in 2001.
But Evernham, who called the shots for the first 47 of Gordon's 49 career victories, isn't ready not make any announcements concerning drivers or other personnel for his team.
He would have been happy to do so, however, had he been able to get the driver he wanted.
"The guy I'd love to have just signed a lifetime contract," Evernham said referring to Gordon.
Evernham did say he will be looking at veterans and newcomers both in and out of the car to form a team.
He is excited by the prospect of being Dodge's flagship car owner.
"There is no other opportunity I would have left the Hendrick team and Jeff Gordon for," Evernham said. "The opportunity to start with a clean slate was to good to pass by."
And' he's like his car to do a lot of passing, right from the start.
"My goal is to get to Victory Lane and take the Dodge people with me," Evernham said, standing near a sign that read 493 the number of days until the season-opening 2001 Daytona 500.
Evernham said part of his job will be to help develop other Dodge teams as they come along. NASCAR is hoping their will be several.
The goal, according to Lou Patane, vice president of motorsports operations for Dodge, is to field between six and eight cars with two multicar teams.
"Dodge's return will increase competition, and certainly make it deeper," said Mike Helton, senior vice president for the sanctioning body, who says the choice of Evernham was a natural. "With one of the greatest talents in modern NASCAR history, it'll be interesting,"
The Intrepid models Evernham will field will be the first Chrysler products in NASCAR's top division since Sept. 15, 1985, when Maurice Randall finished last in one of two Chryslers entered in the Delaware 500 at Dover Downs International Speedway.
The last Dodge in a Winston Cup race finished 30th with Phil Good behind the wheel on June 9, 1985 at Pocono International Raceway.
Chrysler ha a tradition of victory in NASCAR. Petty Enterprises, its most prolific winner ever, had 237 of its 271 victories in Chrysler brands.
Richard Petty himself had 175 of his record 200 career victories and six of his series-best seven championships in Plymouths and Dodges.
But the auto maker withdrew tech and parts support in the late '70s. Petty went winless in 1978, and jumped to General Motors the next year, leaving the few remaining Chrysler cars in the hands of underfunded independents.
The late Neil Bonnett accounted for the last Dodge victory, in the Los Angeles Times 500 on Nov. 20, 1977.
Chrysler began its comeback in the sport when Dodges were campaigned in the NASCAR truck series in 1995. Since factory backing began in 1997, Dodges have won seven races.
Evernham will continue to race in the Busch Series with Gordon at the GEM (Gordon/Evernham Motorsports) team, but will not compete Dodges.. GEM uses Chevrolets.
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