FONTANA, Calif., (April 25, 2001) - The first time Ray Evernham's team raced at California Speedway, they won. The last time Evernham's team raced there, they won. Will the first run at California Speedway for Evernham Motorsports turn out the...
FONTANA, Calif., (April 25, 2001) - The first time Ray Evernham's team raced at California Speedway, they won. The last time Evernham's team raced there, they won. Will the first run at California Speedway for Evernham Motorsports turn out the same way - in Victory Lane? Ray Evernham, team owner of Evernham Motorsports, certainly hopes so.
"California Speedway is a textbook track," said Evernham, who won at the track with the No. 24 team in 1997 and 1999. "There are no bumps, no jumps or anything. You can rely on your car working like it is supposed to. You need a car with good aero and a lot of horsepower because at this track both aero and horsepower are important."
While Evernham's outlook for the race isn't as sunny as the California skies, he thinks the overall Dodge program is making progress and that a trip to Victory Lane for one of the Dodge Intrepids can't be far off.
"There's no reason we can't be good out there," he said. "This deal is still so new, but we're growing every week. We're not going to be too bad, especially with what we learned at Texas. It's a lot like Michigan, so Bill Elliott ought to be good there. Casey Atwood needs to get some experience at this kind of track, so we tested at Michigan a few weeks ago. We had bad weather there, but we did have a chance to learn a little bit."
Although Evernham isn't feeling any pressure to deliver Dodge a victory, he is turning up the heat a little bit and looking for improvements step by step.
"This is the 10th race in a five year plan," said Evernham. "I never promised them a win right out of the box. But Dodge has had a chance to win at Daytona, Atlanta, Talladega and a couple of other places. We're still working together with the "one team" approach whenever we have a problem. Kyle tested and shared information with everyone. We went to the wind tunnel and shared the data with all the teams. At the same time, the teams are all working on their own stuff.
"Our team has come a long way together," noted Evernham. "But what was good enough yesterday is not good enough today. Our stuff is so new, we don't always know how we're going to perform the first time at a track. We're usually better the second time around, so we should get better the second half of the season. The crew chiefs, Mike Ford and Patrick Donahue, are communicating with each other and learning how to give good information to the guys at the race and in the shop. They've done an excellent job calling the races. We short-pitted at Talladega and came out strong. It was nice to see Bill and Casey running one-two, even if it was only for two laps."
Evernham is especially proud of the progress his rookie driver has made.
"It's been a roller coaster ride for him," said Evernham. "His progress is pretty good, but his finishes haven't reflected his performance on the track. He should have been top five material at Talladega. For the first time this season, I think the kid had a chance to win. But it's truly a rookie team. Casey's a rookie, the crew chief is a rookie, they're all under 30 years old. They are all shouldering a lot of responsibility, but everyone of them is stepping it up."
Casey Atwood, who at 20 years old is the youngest driver in Winston Cup, agrees that while it has been a roller coaster ride, it is an opportunity of a lifetime.
"I'm way ahead of what I ever dreamed about," said Atwood. "When I was running late models, I never thought this would happen. Then it happened really fast. I originally planned to spend a few more years in Busch, but when Ray approached me that all changed. If I had passed it up, it never would have come up again.
"Working with Ray is great," Atwood said. "I go to Ray as much as I can about the car and the competition. If I've got questions about driving or specific tracks, I go to Bill. Nobody has more experience out there than him. There are definitely some differences between Cup and Busch. The cars are pretty much the same, but the length of the races is a lot tougher. You've got to really concentrate. It's hot out there, you get pretty worn down sitting in that car for four hours. I try to work out in the off-season to prepare."
Atwood hopes Evernham's experience at California Speedway rubs off on him. He has run at the track twice in the Busch Series, with his best start in seventh in the 1999 Auto Club 300 and his best finish in 18th that same year.
"I really like the track," said Atwood. "It's one of the nicest facilities we go to. You've got to have everything to run there. You've got to have horsepower and you've got to handle pretty good. We tested a new car at Michigan that we're going to run there, but it rained on Wednesday and we had 40 mph winds on Thursday, so it was a little hard to tell what we had.
"I think we've definitely got a shot," he added. "We've got a shot a winning every week. We'd hoped to get one sooner, but maybe it will come this week. I'm really focused on getting qualified. A good effort can pump you up for the whole weekend. Then, I want to get the car down out of the air and have a good run in the race."