Dodge's 2001 Winston Cup Teams in Review

Writers Note: The following is based on personal opinions formulated and gathered from 25 years of following NASCAR and auto racing. It is presented to you to form your own opinions and to give you some working knowledge of the teams if you are not a close race fan of NASCAR.

Evernham Racing

Team owner: Ray Evernham

When Ray Evernham left Hendrick Racing in 1999, most people wondered why he would walk away from a successful racing program at its peak. It didn't take long to find out, when Dodge announced Ray Evernham as being the man tapped to lead the Dodge Winston Cup effort for them. Most noted for his leading of Jeff Gordon to three championships in four years, Evernham hopes to bring the same magic to his new Dodge effort. Evernham is a smart race strategist, and was considered to be the best crew chief in NASCAR. He can also deal with the politics that he will be confronted with in this initial season. His car/track knowledge takes a setback this year however with the change to Dodge, and the new tires that Goodyear will be using. All in all, Evernham is the best team that Dodge has, and his knowledge matches with any other NASCAR teams.

Overall team rating: 9

Drivers:

Bill Elliott

Awesome Bill from Dawsonville leads the Dodge charge this year. Taking over the crown of the most popular driver from Richard Petty, Elliott will be the showcase driver for Dodge. But even a return to his familiar number 9 might not be enough for Elliott who must view this as his last chance for success. While the years are ticking by on him, Elliott has found himself the last few years not winning races, nor even finishing well. Much of this can be blamed on his trying to operate his own team, which has been met with limited success by most drivers who have tried it. Elliott had some strong runs in 2000, with the aid of having Evernham at his side helping out. This bodes well for the chemistry between Evernham and Elliott, which will be sorely need this season. Of all the Dodge drivers, Elliott should have the best chance of winning for Dodge.

Overall driver rating: 8

Casey Atwood

Trying to repeat the success that he had with Jeff Gordon, Evernham tapped youngster Casey Atwood to drive the second team car. This move has been lauded by some, questioned by others. Tapped by Sports Illustrated as being the favorite for Rookie of the Year honors, Atwood has shown an up and down career in his Busch Racing tenure. However, Evernham must like what he has seen, and the pressure will be on young Atwood to respond.

Overall driver rating: 6

Bill Davis Racing

Team Owner: Bill Davis

Is this the second chance for team owner Bill Davis? It was Davis who supported young Jeff Gordon in Busch racing, got him the best of the limited Ford powered V-6s that were available, launched Gordon on his career, only to watch Gordon bolt to Hendrick racing on the eve of a deal that Davis was putting together to bring Gordon into W/C racing. Davis proved himself a winner however, taking Ward Burton to prominence on the W/C scene, and leading Burton to two W/C wins. Now Davis gets to be on the front end of the Dodge effort, and he will be putting the hard work and dedication that he has always shown behind Dodge. On the downside, he is more of a business man then a overpowering crew chief, and will have to rely on others to make the Dodge's go on race day.

Overall Team Rating: 8

Drivers:

Ward Burton

Early in the season, Ward flirted with the Winston Cup Championship, and even led it at one point. However, unlike his brother Jeff who drives for money loaded Rouch Racing, Ward has had to work hard at moving his Bill Davis owned car to the front. Poor pit strategy has plagued Burton's success, and he seems that of all the Dodge drivers, to be one that isn't overjoyed at the thought of changing manufactures this year. And Ward has the perchance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. With a little luck, he could be one of the best of the Dodge drivers. Luck however, has not been Ward's co-pilot.

Overall driver rating: 8

Dave Blaney

Blaney is a graduate of the World of Outlaws sprint cars, and DIRT modifieds. Rumored to be on the hot seat with Bill Davis Racing, Blaney came alive in the last half of the 2000 season, ending on a strong note. This probably bought Blaney the start of the 2001 season, but he must adapt much faster to the heavier, non-sliding, Winston Cup cars if he is to finish the season with Bill Davis Racing.

Overall driver rating: 6.5

Petty Enterprises

Sadly, probably the team that is the lowest of all the Dodge teams. Why remains a mystery to many. However, much of this team's lack of success is the King himself, Richard Petty. Petty has seemed to let racing pass him by, and hasn't kept up on the changing technology. This from a man whose career was based on having the best technology available for the time.

Petty has also been abusive to drivers that he hires, as witnessed by his Craftsman Truck program, where he fired one of the most popular drivers in the series. Petty seems to think the driver can make an ill handling, underpowered truck win on his own. And Petty seems to have his own ideas, and wants to go his own way in many areas. Petty's equipment by today's standards is outdated. And even son Kyle refers to their needing a 5-year rebuilding program to upgrade. From a Dodge point of view, having the King back brings back a lot of loyal Chrysler fans, so it was a must for Dodge to have the King in their fold.

Overall Team Rating: 5

Drivers

John Andretti

Andretti's biggest drawback is his name. While it helped get him into racing, the name in itself makes everyone think that he is Super Mario, which he is not. John has shown some great runs, and has won in Winston Cup. However, the equipment often given to him by Petty Enterprises, is not Winston Cup front running quality. If Andretti can get some good equipment under him, he can be a steady, front running driver. But driving for Petty right now makes that a big "if".

Overall driver rating: 7

Kyle Petty

Kyle has been slipping in the past few years, and after the death of his son Adam, who was to drive the third Petty car, Kyle has simply put, lost it. Never being known as a hard charger, Kyle has fallen to being a defensive driver. They do not win Winston Cup races, nor in many other divisions. Couple his non-aggressiveness with the Petty out dated cars, and you understand why Kyle failed to qualify for so many races last year. The best thing that Kyle could do would be to replace himself in his son's car, and oversee the rebuilding of Petty Enterprises.

Overall driver rating: 5

Buckshot Jones

Added to the Petty stable after the death of Adam, Buckshot is really the sleeper of the group. His driving style is directly the opposite of Kyle's. Buckshot is a hard charger, fender banging, squeeze it in somehow driver. This led him to many Busch victories, but made him a name that most other race teams don't want on their team. Yet, Buckshot is the only driver that I see in a Dodge that can show the total aggressiveness to win. If he will be allowed to is another thing. Once again, Petty equipment will be his drawback, but may be the Dodge driver of the future as he gets laps under his belt.

Overall driver rating: 7

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

The last team to announce its Dodge intentions in 2001 brings us another one of the drivers who could visit victory lane this year. Ganassi bought out the Sabates team during the 2000 season, and got driver Sterling Marlin in the process. Ganassi brings to Dodge a proven winning race operation and Ganassi is a no nonsense type of person that bodes well for a winning race team. He is also on the front end of the technology wars, just the opposite of the Petty team. Ganassi immediately recognized the advantages of a two-team operation, and reacted swiftly, bring in Jason Leffler to drive the second team car. However, the question that has yet to be answered is if Ganassi can do with Winston Cup cars what he was able to do with open wheel cars, and can he deal with the NASCAR community.

Overall Team Rating: 8.5

Drivers

Sterling Marlin

One of the quietest men on the NASCAR circuit, Marlin has been one of NASCAR's hardest to figure out. After several fruitless years chasing his first Winston Cup victory, Marlin won back to back Daytona 500s, one of only a handful of drivers who have not only won their first Winston Cup race at Daytona, but to also win them back to back. Yet, Marlin has only won 4 other times in his career. The 2000 season was a bitter disappointment to Marlin, where he finished 19th in the points race. Like Ward Burton, Marlin has the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The 2001 season could be a rebirth for Marlin, who still seems to have more racing left in him then does Bill Elliott.

Overall driver rating: 8.5

Jason Leffler

Another young gun, Leffler gave up a promising career in Busch Racing driving for Joe Gibbs, who fielded 2000 Winston Cup Champion Bobby Labonte, to take his shot at Winston Cup Racing. Leffler like Blaney has a sprint car background, and showed promise in Busch racing, last year winning 3 poles. But his lack of high finishes (2 top fives all year) make one question his patience. Then again, who is patient when you are 24 years old, and have a Winston Cup career in your future?

Overall driver rating: 6.5

Melling Racing

At one time, Melling Racing was the most feared of all race teams. With driver Bill Elliott, Melling was a household name. But after the death of the founder, and the loss of Elliott, Melling has floundered as a race team, and its most valuable commodity was the number 9 which they had the rights to. With Dodge wanting the number 9 for Elliott, Melling may have found a way back to its glory days, by hooking up with Dodge and the sharing of information that they sorely need to be competitive again. Melling has shown to have the desire and the willingness to work, which is the plus that they have. The single team concept though has not been successful, and I doubt Melling can make it work.

Overall Team Rating: 6.5

Drivers

Stacy Compton

Stacy showed great promise in the Craftsman Truck series, and was hired by Melling after a great showing during the 1999 season by Compton in the R/C Cola Dodge Ram. Stacy runs well on the big tracks, but has shown a tendency to not do as well on the smaller circuits. On pure guts and determination though, Compton could surprise everyone this year, including Dodge, who really got him by accident, rather then design.

Overall driver rating: 7

Tracks

Best Tracks to get a Win

Daytona, Talladega, Homestead-Miami, Michigan, California, Texas

Tracks to close your eyes at

Watkins Glen, Sears Point, Darlington, Rockingham, Dover, Atlanta

Best Chance at Dodge First Win

Burton, Marlin, Elliott

NASCAR at Allpar

Once...as Jerry Olesen wrote..."The cars were production line models, which were reinforced at key points...These days, they race 'cars that never were,' so to speak, and much of the relevance to actual automobiles has been lost. "

The semi-stock car years

1990 and beyond

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