Dodge Charges Ahead

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - This morning Dodge kicked off the opening session of Preseason Thunder for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series with the official unveiling of the new Charger that will compete in the series in 2005. This coming one day after Dodge driver Kasey Kahne, Richard Petty and Chrysler Group President and CEO Dieter Zetsche revealed the production Hemi-powered four-door sedan at the North American Auto Show in Detroit.

The Charger, which raced on the circuit from 1966-1977, will replace the Intrepid and become the second Cup car for Dodge since rejoining the sport in 2001.

The new Charger has come along way since NASCAR approved the car for competition last August. Dodge's four primary Cup teams, which include Penske, Evernham, Petty and Ganassi, have put many hours of track and wind tunnel time into the new race car. Bill Elliott, who is scheduled to race in at least seven races in 2005, did the majority of the testing heading into the Charger's first year. The new race car also came at a good time, as every team has to deal with the new rear-spoiler reduction.

"While we worked within NASCAR's templates, we found innovative ways to build great horsepower and aerodynamic performance into the Charger," said Ray Evernham, President and CEO of Evernham Motorsports.

Ryan Newman and ALLTEL Dodge crew chief Matt Borland are no strangers when it comes to adapting to change. In 2003, Team Penske switched from the Ford Taurus to the Intrepid. It did not take long for Newman and Borland to get a feel for the new machine, as it only took seven races for them to reach victory lane, their first of eight wins that season.

"Anytime the body style changes on a race car, it's big," said Newman, who has 10 career wins with Dodge. "We just concentrate on how we can make it the fastest car on the track. We take the changes in stride and work with the car to prepare it for both qualifying and racing."

Petty, who captured 37 wins in a Charger from 1973-77, is looking forward to seeing the name back on the track.

"The 1974 Charger was probably the best overall car we ever had," said Petty, who won back-to-back championships in 1974-75 with the Charger. "Sure, we had it about five or six years and had a lot of time to work on it. Back then we didn't have specialty cars. The car was just good on everything. It didn't matter if it was a short track, superspeedway or road course. It was just a good overall car. This was a real universal car. Although it has a new look I'm glad to see the Charger back in NASCAR racing."

Overall the Charger has won 124 races (six in winged Charger Daytonas) with Earl Balmer scoring the first in the 1966 100-mile qualifying race at Daytona. The last win came with Neil Bonnett in the 1977 500-mile event at Ontario Motor Speedway.

Although it's an exhibition event, drivers Rusty Wallace, Jeremy Mayfield, Casey Mears, Ken Schrader, Kahne and Newman will be the only Dodge drivers to have the first opportunity to put the new Charger in the NASCAR record books by taking the checkered flag in the Budweiser Shootout on Feb. 12 at Daytona. But, the official Charger countdown to victory starts with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20.

After winning the 2001 Bud Shootout, it took Sterling Marlin 23 races to put the Intrepid into victory lane.

My bet is the Charger has that number beat.

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