Ray Evernham interview 2002-02-11

RAY EVERNHAM (President and CEO, Team Owner Evernham Motorsports) "I think it's going OK for a start (partnership with Jim Smith and 7 car). I'm the worst judge. I had hoped we were going to be a little bit better. I felt it should have run as...

RAY EVERNHAM (President and CEO, Team Owner Evernham Motorsports) "I think it's going OK for a start (partnership with Jim Smith and 7 car). I'm the worst judge. I had hoped we were going to be a little bit better. I felt it should have run as fast as the 19 car, but it didn't. I felt like they were equal on the test, and they would come back equal. It's going to be a good partnership, but the big problem there again is time. The whole program is going to be good. The whole Dodge program is going to be good. It's just going to take time. We're a year old, and right now we're getting beat up by guys who have been doing it for 25 years.

"We were on the pole last year, and we wanted to be on the pole this year and win the race. I feel like we're doing a good job, but it's not about doing a good job. I believe with everything we put in this program, if NASCAR would quit jacking with the rules, we could be all right. We're new, and it's hard enough to get going. We're changing a lot of directions. All I want is consistency so as we're building we can continue to work on the same thing. A lot of the stuff we worked on last year, which was our first year, which was very important, we've had to go back and throw away. A lot of it had to do with the rule changes. There were no Dodges in the 1999 or 2000 Daytona 500. There were no speedway Dodges. All we've got to go on is last year's rules. Those guys can go back to their books from 2000, and we can't do that."

COMMENT ON NEW RAY EVERNHAM BOOK
"It's a coffee table book (Ray Evernham: Racer, Innovator, Visionary, Leader -- available at Barnes and Noble). It's a fun book, stories, pictures. We just did it for fun. I think it's an interesting story. I don't know if anybody else will. It's just a lot of fun. In 25 years of racing, I got to work with some really good people and race with some really good people. I had a lot of things happen, and there's a lot of good pictures in there. Some crashes, some wins, lots of things like that. My marketing department thought it would be a good idea because I had a lot of good pictures and stories. When you're trying to start a team, you've got to build a brand. It's a good brand building tool when you can go and show sponsors that you're for real. People have got to know my name more now as a car owner than a crew chief. I'm not Jeff's crew chief anymore. People need to know me as a business guy, and I think that book and some of the things we've got going now from Dodge shows that transition."

ARE YOU COMFORTABLE NOW AS A CAR OWNER?
"I'm not comfortable with it because I'm not there yet, but I'm making that transition. I'm getting more and more comfortable with it. I'm sure I would never want to be a crew chief again. They've got a tough job right now, and the older you get the harder it gets on you. They've got a tough job."

COMMENT ON NEW EVERNHAM MOTORSPORTS DRIVER JEREMY MAYFIELD
"I don't know a lot about Jeremy Mayfield yet. His job is to bring technology and help us get this team strengthened up and built so all the Dodges and Casey can benefit from it. Casey was a big boy and a team player and took a step to help me build the whole operation up so he could benefit from it down the road. Right now, we're looking at Jeremy to fill in some of the gaps that we had last year. We were relying on Casey to do some of the development, and it really wasn't fair to him. You try to learn how to drive Winston Cup and help us with the development, too. Now if we all do our jobs, all of our stuff will get better and Casey will benefit from that while he's getting experience.

"I feel like Jeremy is going to run harder to be up front. If you had a choice, you'd be ready to have one car be a rabbit and have the other car be consistent. I'm not too sure than Bill isn't going to run like a rabbit this year. He seems pretty pumped up, too."

COMMENT ON BILL ELLIOTT
"Bill and I have gotten closer. We have a better understanding. I think he's in the best physical condition I've seen him in. He's happy. He's healthy. He's very focused on the race car. I think he's confident again. I think there was a time when he wasn't sure if it was him or the car. Now he's had some good cars, and he knows he can win again. I think he's planning on winning more this year. Our biggest challenge is making sure we give him the car to win. Now, when you give him a car that can win, he can win with it."

COMMENT ON DODGE'S PROGRESS
"Dodge is still learning. They come through with support. They've not wavered in a tough economy. They've supported us the best they can, and I applaud them for that. A lot of people were worried about the German influence. The Germans are very engineering oriented, and they've very pumped up about their racing. Dodge has been a great partner. The biggest thing that's hurting us is inexperience. Right now, I think that's the only thing we're lacking. We've got the resources and we've got the commitment from people. It's hard to catch up, especially when you're shooting at a moving target."

DO YOU PLAN TO STAY WITH THE SAME TEAM LINEUP?
"We got half a team too many right now, but it's what we need to do to get the program right. If that's what we need to do to get the program right, that's what we'll do. Everybody knows that Bill's not going to drive forever. I'll stay involved with Jim every way I can. Right now, this was the best opportunity for both of us. It's an all Dodge team because it's me, Jim and Dodge. It's not just me and Jim. Dodge has a vested interest in the program, too. If there is a Dodge Motorsports team, that's it, and I'll be involved in it as long as everybody needs me to."

WHAT ARE THE GOALS FOR 2002 AND BEYOND?
"Two goals, Evernham Motorsports wants to be a championship contender, but more important than that, I want one of my cars to do it, but it's going to take all of the Dodges to get that manufacturers cup for Dodge. If I can do that, then I'll feel like I've done a good job for these people.

"There's no way of grading Dodge's success, but what they've done has never been done before in the sport. Everyone wants to grade us like Chevy or Ford or Hendrick or Roush. You can't. Never before in the sport has someone come out with a new motor and a new car at the same time, not since 1947 when everybody came in together. What Dodge did last year, coming back, sitting on the pole here for the Daytona 500, coming with a new car and a new motor, not only winning four races but having three drivers in the top 15 in points. That's a pretty special deal. Comparing them to something that's never been done before in the history of the sport, let's let somebody else bring it on and see if they can do it.

"Dodge was out of the sport for 25 years, and what they did was pretty amazing the first year. I don't think anyone expected us to win one race. They were betting we weren't going to win. We go everywhere to win, but realistically you know what your chances are.

"We've got a goal this year with one driver on the stage (top 10 in points), one or our drivers on the stage, either Bill or Jeremy or Casey. Both of them in the top 15. We want multiple wins. That means at least three wins this year. Those are legitimate goals. We want Casey Atwood to get his first win this year. That would be great. As long as he continues to get experience... He had a lot of peaks and valleys last year. He's got to level that curve off a little bit, but he might get his win. If Casey can level off the peaks and valleys and we can be competitive every week, one guy in the top 10, the other in the top 15, I think that would be a good year."

WHERE WILL YOU BE DURING THE RACE?
"Bill and Mike (crew chief Ford) don't need me that much. They do their own thing. Sammy and Jeremy, I'm not sure. Me and Casey get along good, so I wouldn't be surprised if I spend a lot of time in their pits. I'll go wherever I feel like I'm needed. Mike and Bill do their own thing. I help more often on the chassis on the 19. I'll probably spend some time around the 7. That's one good thing about being the car owner because I don't have to be anywhere. I can go where I want."

DISCUSS CHANGES IN EVERNHAM MOTORSPORTS
"We made a bunch of changes right around May, June last year. I think that all those changes together helped. We made changes in the engine shop, we made changes in management. We made a crew chief change on the 19, and sometimes those things just start clicking. Sammy is a good guy. He's a hard-working guy. He wants to do it really bad. Him and Mike get along really good, and they're both fired up. I'm looking forward to Eric Warren (new Evernham Motorsports Technical Director) being able to help us a good bit. He can take a lot of pressure off of me because he's really smart. He thinks like I do. Not that I'm really smart, but he thinks like I do. He's a real stickler for detail.

"This team is about as one team as you're going to get. A lot of new guys have come to work at our shop. It's unlike any place they've ever worked. You don't have those little cliques. You don't have the bickering. They really work together well. They want to beat each other on Sunday, but they work together unbelievable. We've got an open book deal between those two cars. I feel good about the chemistry in the shop. That's one thing that helps keep things going. We don't have all that arguing going on. "You always need more people, more money, more time, more equipment. Obviously we need something or we'd be sitting on the pole right now. Time is the big thing, but right now Hendrick Motorsports are the people to beat. That's the target. If you're going to win, you've got to beat them. If you're going to beat them, you're going to have to have your act together."

WHAT'S IMPRESSED YOU MOST SO FAR AT DAYTONA?
"Jimmie Johnson is a good kid and a heads up racer. I think he's going to be good. What impressed me the most was Randy Dorton (Hendrick Motorsports head engine builder). Randy did his deal, and I know Rick Hendrick. Their speedway program wasn't good last year, and I'll guarantee you Rick sat everybody down and 'look, our speedway program is going to be good this year.' And it is. They're going to be tough. Of course NASCAR cutting a quarter inch off their spoiler didn't hurt them at all."

-dodge-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeremy Mayfield , Casey Atwood , Jimmie Johnson , Ray Evernham , Jim Smith
Teams Hendrick Motorsports