What’s Happened In Cup?
Dodge was riding high in 2006 in Nextel Cup racing. When they came into Talladega Superspeedway then in the Spring, they had three wins, and Kasey Kahne was third in the points, and looking like he’d possibly make a run to bring Evernham Motorsports its first Cup championship. All the Dodge boys eventually garnered seven wins total last year. Respectable.
What a difference one year can make.
After the Aaron’s 499 last weekend at Talladega, Kasey Kahne is mired in the “30ths” in the yearly standings and not likely to make the Chase this year unless there is some sort of unlikely NASCAR intervention for the Dodge COT Avenger aero package. What a tumble for a racer and team who won six times in 2006!
The other Dodge teams, particularly Ganassi and Penske, certainly seem to have gained a better handle on the COT more quickly than Evernham Motorsports – for whatever reasons. At least the Dodge teams aren’t as toad-like on all the tracks as the Toyota teams are in their first season in Cup. But that is really not much solace.
There was glimmer of performance hope with the way the Dodges finished at Talladega this past weekend in their restrictor-plated Car of Yesterday – Kurt Busch finished 3rd and clawed up into the Top 10 overall, and David Stremme came in a career-best of 8 th, and is knocking on the Chase in 14 th, just 44 points out of 12th place. They look to be the best hope for Dodge to get two cars in the Chase.
Fellow Dodge racers Ryan Newman was 9th, Scott Riggs was 11th, and Kahne finished 12 th in the final Talladega order. Overall, respectable yes. But more of an anomaly for this season; using last year’s cars you’d expect them to finish decent – even with the unpredictability a restrictor-plate race can generate.
But, back to reality. One has to wonder, with Chrysler up on the block and likely to be sold within the next month or two, whether Dodge will stay in Cup when new owners come on board with new management priorities. It must get tiresome for Mike Accavitti, the Director of Dodge Motorsports to keep fielding questions, it seems each month, about the company’s long-term commitment to Cup.
Yet, he has been steadfast in saying Dodge will honor its long-term commitments with its Cup teams (likely out to 2008), and that NASCAR is the right racing fit for the Dodge brand. I’d like to believe that, but I’m sure some of you readers have been though a few company buy-outs and company ownership changes like I have, and know that the best intentions and long-term contracts can be “adjusted” if new (or old) management wants to.
On the up side, when you have the magnitude of debt and long-term fiscal liability issues (pensions, healthcare) that the mothership of Chrysler has, even striking every single budget line-item for motorsports and the performance aftermarket programs, would do more harm than what minimal affect the gained revenue would have on the company’s total debt.
Back to Evernham Motorsports – what has them back on their heels in 2007? Maybe they haven’t fully rebounded from the heavyweight blow to the body NASCAR delivered at the start of the season at Daytona. All their cars were found to have illegalities by NASCAR, and they came away with fines and crew suspensions and drivers’ points deductions: Kahne with -50, and Riggs and Sadler with -25 each. Not many teams could jump right back after that.
It can’t be for a lack of engineering prowess at Evernham. Owner Ray has always favored the technical side over the seat-of-the-pants side of racing. Having come from Hendrick Motorsports, with their extremely deep engineering talent pool, he’s built up a similar array of engineering ability with his team, and is even adding robotic welding to their assembly floor.
Nor can it be lack of intensity, because if you’ve ever been around Ray Evernham, the man is the very definition of intense – and you can bet the guys that work for him know exactly what he has on his mind – get these teams on track. Yet, the fact he’s looking for a business partner to help shoulder the financial and business side of the load of running a three-car team he wants to make into four, may have kept him from being as hands-on as he’s been in the past. Having the resources and then being able to marshal them are two different actions.
The partial introduction of the COT hasn’t helped – it basically means you’re developing two racing car programs in one year – which takes more depth for an organization like Evernham’s, which isn’t at the level of Hendrick Motorsports or Roush Racing, yet.
With 2007 fast becoming the year of Chevy in Nextel Cup -- with eight of the top 12 points positions in the Chase filled with Bowties at this writing – it looks like a rebuilding year for most of Dodge, and particularly for Evernham Motorsports. They will get their fortunes changed, but until they unlock the COT’s mysteries, it will be a tough slog.