Elliott happy to get a ride for Shootout

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Partially retired, Bill Elliott spends most of his weekends away from the race track enjoying time with his family.

Occasionally, he finds himself missing competition.

"I realize it's a different evolution and you've got to lay it
down sometimes,'' Elliott said Friday at Daytona International
Speedway. "It's sooner or later, and later might not be the way
you want to do it. I feel like now I've done it kind of the way I
want to do it, and it's worked out for me.''

Elliott now gets to picks the races he wants to compete in and
assuming car owner Ray Evernham can find sponsorship, Elliott gets
to race.

But Evernham had nothing available for him for the Budweiser
Shootout. Elliott's brother, Ernie, builds engines for car owner
Chip Ganassi and he put the two in touch. With Evernham's blessing,
Elliott will drive a Dodge for Ganassi on Saturday night.

"Bill and I have sort of a loose agreement and I told him if he
had other Cup opportunities, I preferred that they be with Dodge
teams,'' Evernham said. "So I had no problem with him hooking up
with Chip for this race.''

Elliott will start third in Saturday night's race.

Returning to his roots
Jimmie Johnson is returning to the
Busch Series this season to run six races in the No. 48 Hendrick
Motorsports Chevrolet.

Johnson began his NASCAR career in the Busch Series, and
approached Jeff Gordon one day for career advice. It led to a
friendship and a little bit of mentoring, and eventually opened the
door for Johnson to join Hendrick Motorsports in the Nextel Cup

Johnson is scheduled to run in Busch races at Atlanta, Chicago,
California, Texas and two races at Lowe's Motor Speedway in

Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief in the Nextel Cup Series, will
also lead the team in the Busch Series events.

"This is a great opportunity on many levels for Chad and me,''
Johnson said. "We had a good time when we ran the Busch race last
October at Lowe's Motor Speedway. I think our fans will like it as
well. It's fun to mix it up a little bit, and I'll enjoy seeing the
tweaks to our paint scheme each time.''

Charging back in bright colors
Dodge is going retro as it returns the Charger
to NASCAR competition with versions of its limited-edition cars
entered in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout.

Kasey Kahne will drive a metallic-orange Charger called Go
ManGo! and Jeremy Mayfield will be in a bright-yellow 'Top Banana'
car in the exhibition race.

The cars are celebrating the Charger's return to production
after a 27-year hiatus and are modeled after a limited-edition
Daytona R/T model that will go on sale this summer.

Dodge phased out the Intrepid -- they haven't been produced
commercially since 2003 -- but were still used for competition
through last season. Now all Dodge teams will drive a Charger, the
model that Richard Petty made famous in the 1970s.

The Charger has not won the Daytona 500 since Petty did it in

Car owner Ray Evernham, who fields the Charger for Kahne and
Mayfield, wants that to change this year.

"Everything has to go right for you, for sure,'' Evernham said.
"Are we going to be strong enough? I don't know. Not always the
fastest car wins, you know? Some of the best race teams win. But
we'll see. It's certainly not out of the question.''

Evernham said he's hopeful the Charger will be competitive on
speedways. The Intrepid was strong when it was first introduced in
2001, but then tailed off.

"We were able to refine some of the nose and tail
configurations,'' Evernham said. "The Intrepid was built kind of
for different rules, and the first year we ran good on the
speedways. Then there were a lot of rules changes and we never
really ran good on the speedways after that.

"So, we were able to go back and do some things to the nose and
tail on this car that should help us slightly on these tracks.''

Junior's latest venture
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is continuing to grow
his JR Motorsports operation and will field a car for Mark
McFarland in the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series. McFarland will also
drive a limited late model schedule for the team.

"It's a fun effort, yet it's a serious effort,'' said
Earnhardt, who is using it as a springboard for even more
opportunities. "As far as moving on into other series, the sky's
the limit."

The late Dale Earnhardt began his empire with a Busch Series
team before expanding it to three Nextel Cup cars. Junior called
his father's start his "blueprint.'' In a company called Chance 2
Motorsports, co-owned with his stepmother, Teresa, Earnhardt fields
a car in the Busch Series for reigning series champion Martin Truex

The McFarland entry is his first sole ownership venture.

"For JR Motorsports, there's no limit or reins, except for the
budget side of it. As it is successful, we will proceed and my
roots with DEI will continue to grow. Who says you can't have it
all?'' he said.

"I'm definitely determined to build a team that could compete
full-time in the Busch Series or, God willing, the Cup series, some
day. It's just an egg we've hatched and, hopefully, it will grow
and be successful.''

Family matters to Craven
Ricky Craven couldn't make his way to Daytona
before taking care of a little family business: The birth of his
third child.

Lydia Cathleen Craven was born at 8:47 p.m. on Thursday night --
early enough for Craven to stay home with the family before
traveling to Daytona to compete in the Craftsman Truck Series race
next Friday.

"She is absolutely beautiful,'' Craven said. "Everybody should
get to come home from the hospital on Friday so I can spend a few
days with her before I leave for Daytona next week. This is the
best start to SpeedWeeks I've ever had.''