- Auto Racing - Elliott to run Bud Shootout

Saturday, February 3
Elliott to run Bud Shootout

Ray Evernham will bring a brand new team and a couple of the new Dodge Intrepids to the season-opening Daytona 500. Thanks to driver Bill Elliott, though, he'll get a little head start on some of the other teams in the Feb. 18 race.

That's because Elliott qualified to run in next Sunday's Budweiser Shootout -- a made-for-TV race contested among the previous year's pole-winners and the leaders of second-round qualifying.

That race is annually the first head-to-head competition of the stock car season.

"We'll be guaranteed to be the first Dodge team in a competitive race, and that's a big plus for my guys here," Evernham said Saturday in a telephone press conference. "On top of that, I think we can learn some things about how the Dodge is actually going to draft and cool and what our horsepower and things are like. It should, hopefully, get us a little bit of a head start for the (Twin) 125s (qualifying races) because you're going to run out a tank of gas.

"It's going to be 70 laps and you're definitely going to have to pit and change tires. It'll give my pit crews a workout and it'll get a 150 miles or so on the race car. We have five speedway cars built. We have two cars for each driver and an overall spare."

Evernham, who built his impeccable reputation by guiding Jeff Gordon to 48 wins and three Winston Cup championships, walked away from the elite Hendrick Motorsports team late in the 1999 season to oversee Dodge's re-entry into NASCAR's top division after a 16-year absence.

He not only has put together his own two-car team - with 1988 champion Elliott and much-anticipated rookie Casey Atwood as his drivers - but Elliott has been the guiding light in developing both the Intrepid race car and the Dodge NASCAR V-8 engine.

As Friday's official opening day of practice on Daytona's 2.5-mile oval approaches, Evernham Motorsports has been scrambling hard to finish its preparations.

"We are just about ready to go to Daytona," Evernham said. "We have five superspeedway cars sitting here in red. We're preparing trucks and trailers and pit equipment and things right now, putting the final decals and touches on."

The team has done a considerable amount of testing, including runs at both Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, the two longest and fastest ovals in NASCAR.

"We were faster at Talladega than we were at Daytona and we feel like we'll be faster again when we return," Evernham said. "Every day we're hammering a little harder on the cars and our restrictor-plate program. At the same time, we've recently tested Rockingham with Casey, and we're working on our open (engine) program also."

Although his main focus now is on his own team, Evernham is proud of the work he has done in helping the four other Dodge teams - Petty Enterprises, Bill Davis Racing, Ganassi Racing and Melling Racing - develop their new equipment.

"I believe Dodge will win," he said. "There's some Dodges right now that are running good, and that makes me feel good. I wish my Dodges were going a little faster, but I have the expansion team."

"We've handed off a really good product to some good race teams. I really believe the Dodges are going to be competitive."