RAY EVERNHAM (President and CEO Evernham Motorsports) "Our journey started at ground zero and our goal was to build one of the most competitive and premier motorsports teams in NASCAR. We wanted to take the shortest, straightest, fastest...
RAY EVERNHAM (President and CEO Evernham Motorsports)
"Our journey started at ground zero and our goal was to build one of the most competitive and premier motorsports teams in NASCAR. We wanted to take the shortest, straightest, fastest possible way we could possibly get there. If you take a long journey, you want wide, flat roads with a high speed limit and very little traffic. You have checkpoints along the way so you can monitor whether or not you're on schedule. You lay a race team out the same way. You have good cars, good sponsors, good people and good drivers. You get running, get running good and start running consistently. When you start your trip sometimes you find detours. Sometimes the road you want to take might be closed by the NASCAR police. Sometimes a short cut ends up costing you a little more time. Sometimes you have to change bus drivers, and sometimes your bus driver doesn't want to run the whole route. You keep your goals and monitor your progress and you know whether or not you're on schedule.
"Evernham Motorsports has really come a long way since we set out our road map. We wanted to win at least one race in each of our three seasons, and we've done that. We wanted to win poles and put our cars in the Budweiser Shootout, and we've done that. We put Bill Elliott in the top 10 in points last year and put him on the stage in New York, and that was a big goal for us. We're very proud of that. For a three-year-old company where the average age of the other teams in the top 10 is 16.6.
"In three years we've run 108 races. We have four wins, eight poles and 27 top-five finishes, so 25 percent of the time we've been able to finish with an Evernham Motorsports Dodge in the top five. Fifty percent of the time we've been in the top 10. We finished first and fourth in the pit crew championship and in every year of our existence we put one of our pit crews in the top five. The future for 2004 and beyond looks bright for Evernham Motorsports. Dodge has exercised an option on a commitment and made a commitment to be a long-term sponsor of the 9 and 19. Our engine program is solid and growing. We're starting to build our in-house chassis. We've got the best of driver combinations here. Bill Elliott will be testing and doing development and coaching. Jeremy Mayfield is our journeyman driver and his finishes at the end of '03 really gave us confidence knowing he would be in the midst of things in '04. I'm excited about Kasey Kahne, and I'm excited about his future. He's cut from the same mold as Gordon, Stewart and Newman.
"I've got a great management staff in place. I feel more comfortable about the people I've got up here supporting me. Right now the future looks bright, and we're going to continue to build that future. If we continue to use our map and focus on our progress going forward, the forward progress will continue."
COMMENT ON NASCAR'S NEW POINT SYSTEM
"It's hard to answer how strenuous it would have been. Certainly it's going to add some pressure. If you have a 100 or 200-point lead and it gets reduced to five points (heading into final 10 races), that's going to be tough. We're not crowning a season-long champion any more. We'll be crowning a 10-race champion, so that's a whole different issue. It doesn't look like we're going to be crowning a 26-race champion, so it's going to be a lot different. The other thing is if you're outside the top 10, you don't have a shot at getting in the top 10. Last year, I wouldn't have had a car in the top 10. Neither Bill nor Tony Stewart would have made the top 10 last year with this year's point system.
"I don't feel like it's going to cause us to change anything because you absolutely and positively run as hard as you can for every race. People ask me if we prepare more for Daytona or Martinsville. They both pay the same amount of points. It's just a matter of you have more time to prepare for one. I think you're going to have to wait and see how it's going to affect our sponsors. What are the sponsors going to think of it if their car is not one of the top 10 and has no shot at getting in the top 10? I'm more concerned about how we're going to prepare those people for what could happen.
"Obviously a championship is every car owner's goal and if you could focus more resources on winning a championship, I think you'd do that. With Dodge's support and the resources we've built here, I would hope we'd be able to run a car for the championship. The ideal situation would be having your cars race one another for the championship and not have to worry about splitting resources. Our focus with Jeremy having a shot at being in the top 10 and Kasey's big battle being rookie of the year, we're going to try to concentrate our resources on that and I feel confident that I have enough resources that I won't have to shift them around at the end of the year."
DO YOU THINK THE NEW SYSTEM WILL LESSEN OR CHEAPEN THE TITLE?
"I don't know that it cheapens it. I honestly don't know what it's going to do. I applaud them for changing it, but again, you're not crowning a season-long champion. I guess that's something they're going to have to really look at. What if the guy that's leading after 26 races ends up 10th? It's going to put a different meaning to NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Champion, that's for sure. "
WHAT MAKES THIS DIFFERENT THAN A FOOTBALL PLAYOFF?
"In football whether you win the Super Bowl or not, you still won the NFC championship or whatever, so you are a champion for what you have accomplished. That one game is really the championship of the Super Bowl, but when you're the conference champion.... I just don't feel we'll be crowning the series champion unless the same person wins it."
DO YOU THINK IT'LL BE MORE DIFFICULT TO SIGN A SPONSOR?
"I think that could be a double-edged sword, but I believe you'll see the economy getting better. I think a lot of companies right now are testing the waters a little bit and aren't ready to jump into NASCAR right now but maybe you'll see some companies coming in toward the end of the year. A lot of it is going to be how our television partners control that. If they're just going to focus on those 10 cars or if they're going to focus on the rest of the field, too. You've got to remember somebody's still got to win those last 10 races and be up front. If you're good enough to be up front and in the mix of what's going on, you're going to get some TV coverage. I think the key is how well you perform. I think with the program we've put together with Bill we can perform on a high level. Bill will be doing a lot of testing and development for us. It won't be like a new team. It's actually two and a half teams for us, which is a pretty good system. When we do start that 10-race shootout, hopefully those other 33 cars in the field won't be forgotten about."
WAS LAST YEAR'S POINTS RACE BORING?
"There have been some good championship battles. I can remember being in one that was won by 11 points and one that was lost by 30 points. There have been some real good ones. I don't know that you can have a perfect championship race every year. Busch and truck were good and they use the same point system. Matt Kenseth had a little bit of a runaway. Hopefully we have a lot more to sell than just the points championship. I applaud NASCAR for making the changes. I'm happy that Mr. France has agreed that if it doesn't work they'll make changes. Maybe we can have a double points show or something once in awhile. I don't believe you can have a runaway points championship every year. Certainly in the past we haven't."
BILL ELLIOTT (No. 91 Evernham Motorsports Dodge)
"It's been pretty hectic. I went to Daytona and tested last week. That's been kinda the same. Now I think it's going to change from this standpoint on. Once I get through the Bud Shootout, I'll start throttling back some of the events and start helping Jeremy and Kasey. I think I've come into the season with a whole different attitude. I've had a completely different makeover. I've not gone through January not wanting the season to start. I'm glad for it to start because I don't have to be in every event. I guess I didn't realize how bad that weighed on me the last five or six years, especially as tough as this series has gotten."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT NEW POINTS FORMAT?
"Somebody asked me the other day what I thought about it, and I said, 'It doesn't matter to me. I'm not running for it.' It will to these guys, obviously, but if you sit down and think through it and try to realize what they're trying to achieve and accomplish, I think it's going to take a bit of time to analyze it and realize if it's good or bad. I do agree with Ray that it's going to come down to a 10-race champion. You go 26 races and zero everything out and then start all over again.... On the other side of the coin, I not only look at it from the driver's side but as a team owner. When you get to the last third of the season and look at the guys on the crew and see how stressed they are anyway, you start all over again, it's going to make it real tough on the crews."
HAVE YOU DECIDED WHAT RACES YOU'LL COMPETE IN THIS SEASON?
"We've pretty much confirmed Vegas and Texas. After that, we're looking for sponsorship. Ideally we're looking at 15 races. I'd like to run Atlanta, but I don't think it'll happen for the first race, maybe in the fall. We've got a lot of things going on. One side of me says I'm going to miss running all of the races and the other side of me says.... If things aren't going right and you can't get anything going, you get halfway into the season, there's nothing more miserable than that. At least what we're doing now, I can help Kasey and Jeremy."
WHAT'S DIFFERENT BETWEEN NASCAR, NFL PLAYOFF?
"We're so much different than other sports. We race against all of our competitors each and every week whereas in other sports it's the process of elimination. We run against 42 other teams every week. I don't know how you can create what we're trying to create by changing the points."
JEREMY MAYFIELD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge)
"I think I can bring a lot to the team. Before I was depending a lot on the senior driver for information. Now I feel like I can pick through some of that stuff. I know what Kasey is going to be going through. I know the things he's going to be doing and questions he's going to be afraid to ask. I've never been in this position (senior driver) so I'm looking forward to it. Wild Bill is still around and he can help both of us. As long as he's around, maybe I'm not the senior driver. Maybe I'm the junior senior driver.
"I feel like we should be in the top 10 in points anyway. I'm not looking at it any differently. That's our goal. I think there'll be a lot of wild stuff going on at the end of the year. Guys that are in the top 10 will be racing like there's no tomorrow. It should be a heck of a show.
"I think the system is in place for us and (last year) won't happen again as far as getting into a slump that you can't get out of. The way it's set up, we're not going to have those bad races. Everybody has a bad race every now and then, but the system is in place now and I think we're going to come out of the box running strong in 2004."
KASEY KAHNE (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge)
"I'm real excited about being with Evernham Motorsports and Dodge. Bill Elliott and Jeremy Mayfield will be a big help to me, and obviously so will my crew chief Tommy Baldwin. That No. 9 car was one of the best last year, if not the best, with Bill, so I've got some big shoes to fill. I'm going to work as hard as I can to do my job.
"We're going to try to run every Busch race we can. I think the Busch practice and race will help the Cup side. I think the Cup practice will help the Busch race on Saturday. I think it's going to be a good situation. As long as the weather cooperates, I think there's an opportunity to run every single race. It would be great if we could do that."
KENNY FRANCIS (Crew chief No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge)
COMMENT ON HOW POINTS CHANGE COULD CHANGE TEAM STRATEGY
"I'm sure it'll change strategy toward the end of the year. You've got to make sure you're in the top 10 so you can go out and run as hard as you can. I think one thing it might change, you might save some tests for the end of the year in case you need it. I think we're just going to run as hard as we can every week and let the points take care of themselves. If we're in position at the end of 26 races we'll have a shot at it and that's about all we can do."
TOMMY BALDWIN (Crew chief No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge)
"Ray and I basically came out of the same mold. He's obviously accomplished a lot more in the NEXTEL Cup Series than I have so far. Hopefully we can bring him his first owner's championship. I've excited about all the detail type of person he is. All the other places I've been in the past I had to kind of take that role. With Ray being here, it's allowed me to get back working on racecars again, which is what I love to do. I'm excited about having a rookie driver like Kasey. We've got a legend sitting down there that's going to go down as one of the greatest racecar drivers ever, so we can pick his brain all year long. I'm excited."