Idodge Does Daytona:/I Day 1

DAYTONA – On the one hand, Evernham Motorsports owner Ray Evernham couldn’t be much happier with his No. 9 team’s efforts during the first day of Dodge testing at Daytona International Speedway Tuesday.

On the other hand, his No. 19 team, with rookie Casey Atwood behind the wheel, appears to have a lot of work ahead of it if it’s going to even make the field for next month’s season-opening Daytona 500… much less be competitive.

The No. 9 Dodge Intrepid, with veteran Bill Elliott at the helm, posted the fastest speed among the 10 Dodge teams present at the two-day test session with a best lap of 180.574 mph. Atwood, however, was only 12th fastest among 14 different cars in at 177.029 mph.

Evernham was visibly flustered at times in the garage area Tuesday, trying to find a way to get both of his teams up to speed.

“Right now, one car seems to be pretty good and the rookie car is struggling a little bit,” said Evernham, who spearheaded Dodge’s return to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. “We’ve just got to see if we can get them a little bit closer together.

“Right now, we still don’t have an idea of where we’re at (in comparison to the other manufacturers). We just need to find out exactly where we are. We’ve got two or three different combinations we’re trying. Obviously, we’ve got Bill’s team with one combination and I’ve got my rookie team with another. We just want to find out where we stack up from the motor department to the aerodynamic department to the actual race team itself.”

Rusty Wallace posted the fastest speed during Ford testing last week at 187.719, and Jerry Nadeau was fastest among all General Motors teams at 185.755 mph. Both of those speeds were clocked, however, when cars were drafting.

On the first day of the Ford test, without drafting, Taurus drivers were able to break the 182 mph mark. On the first day of GM testing, a combined six Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix drivers were able to break the 181 mph barrier without the benefit of the draft.

None of the Dodge cars drafted with each other Tuesday.

Elliott hit the top of the leader board early on Tuesday morning and stayed there throughout the remainder of the day.

“We had really good day today,” said Mike Ford, Elliott’s crew chief. “Some of the gains you make here are small gains, and you want to be meticulous. But we had a great baseline for what we wanted to do here today, and hopefully we’ll be able to pick things up tomorrow. We certainly learned a lot today, and I know we’ll learn a lot tomorrow. These Dodges seem like they’re very similar to the Fords, but that’s just a wait-and-see proposition.”

Atwood, who has raced NASCAR Busch Series cars at Daytona the past couple of years, said he and his team experienced some mishaps early on Tuesday, but that he hoped to have them worked out by the end of the two-day test Wednesday afternoon.

“We had some problems with the car bottoming out in the corners, and that’s part of the reason we weren’t running well,” said Atwood, who made three Winston Cup starts late last season. “We’ll get those taken care of. I’ve seen a lot of smiling faces in the garage area today and not a lot of frowns, so that’s a good sign for us and for the whole Dodge effort.”

Kyle Petty, driving Petty Enterprises’ newest Winston Cup entry, the No. 45 Sprint Intrepid, said progress has been slow but sure for the Dodge teams. Petty wound up eighth quickest on Tuesday with a lap of 177.992 mph.

“We’re getting there little by little,” Petty said. “Right now, what we’ve done with the 43, 44 and 45 teams is divide up our program this morning and today. Everybody tried some stuff today and hopefully we’ll come back tomorrow and be a little bit better.

“Our speeds with the Dodges aren’t what they were with the Chevrolets and Fords, but this is just the first day. We’ve got another day, then you come back to the races. We’re really optimistic where we’re at and with where we’re going to be.”

Stacy Compton, whose team made the switch from Ford to Dodge following a horrible season a year ago, posted the second-fastest lap among the Dodge teams Tuesday at 180.169 mph.

“We’re pretty excited,” said Compton, who’s preparing for his sophomore season in the Winston Cup Series. “I think Dodge is going to have a great program. I’m excited about it. We’re proud to be here with Dodge. The car drives really well. The motors seem to be really good. We haven’t had a chance to work with them a lot. When all is said and done and we come back to qualify, we’ll be OK.”

Compton said the Melling Racing team will pull another car out of the truck tomorrow and will do some drafting in hopes of reaching the speeds the Fords, the Chevrolets and the Pontiacs achieved last week.

Tuesday’s Top Speeds

1. Bill Elliott (1), 180.574 mph
2. Stacy Compton, 180.169
3. Dave Blaney, 179.404
4. John Andretti, 178.919
5. Sterling Marlin, 178.529
6. Bill Elliott (2), 178.525
7. Ward Burton (1), 178.006
8. Kyle Petty, 177.992
9. Jason Leffler , 177.848
10. Buckshot Jones, 177.480
11. Ward Burton (2), 177.371
12. Casey Atwood (1), 177.029
13. Dave Blaney (2), 176.620
14. Casey Atwood (2), 174.951

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