The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

NASCAR WCUP: Dodge Returns with three in the top 10 at Daytona

Posted By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Dodge is back in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. An absence of more than 15 years ended today as 10 Dodge Intrepid R/Ts competed in the series' premier event, the Daytona 500.

Not only was Dodge in the race, but Dodge drivers set the pace for much of the afternoon as Bill Elliott, Sterling Marlin and Ward Burton led 90 of the race's 200 laps. Burton, with 53 laps at the front, and Marlin with 36, each led more laps than any other driver.

When the checkered flag few and the dust settled after the race's two major wrecks, Dodge drivers had captured three spots in the top 10. Pole winner Elliott finished 5th in his Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T, third-place starter Marlin was 7th, in his Coors Light Intrepid R/T, and outside-pole winner Stacy Compton was10th in his Kodiak Dodge Intrepid R/T.

The other Dodge drivers and their unofficial finishing positions were:

16. Kyle Petty (No. 45), Sprint PCS Dodge Intrepid R/T, started 28th

20. Casey Atwood (No. 19), Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T, started 21st

29. Buckshot Jones (No. 44), Georgia-Pacific Dodge Intrepid R/T, started 29th

34. Jason Lefler (No. 01), Cingular Wireless Dodge Intrepid R/T, started 15th

35. Ward Burton (No. 22), Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T, started 10th

39. John Andretti (No. 43), Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T, started 35th

42. Dave Blaney (No. 93), Amoco Dodge Intrepid R/T, started 20th

"We came out unscathed, and I was tickled," said Elliott. "We had a good day. Fifth ain't nothing to go out of Daytona and hang your head about.

"I'm pleased with the Dodge, especially for the first race," continued Elliott. "A couple of Dodges had a good shot at winning today. I'm not real sure what happened, but we got three of 'em in the top 10, and I guess I ended up with the best Dodge finish. That was quite a surprise."

"We know we had a good race car, but there were four or five Chevys out there, and I knew I was in trouble (at the end)," said Marlin. "I couldn't get any help. Ken Schrader helped us a lot, but with Michael Waltrip blocking, Earnhardt blocking and Earnhardt Jr. blocking, well, that's what you're supposed to do, and there just wasn't much I could do.

"We had a good car today," continued Marlin. "We got lucky and got our lap back, and we led a lot of the race. I knew I had a car that was capable of winning, but that's the way it goes. It was a good start for Dodge. I wish we could have won it for 'em. That would have been the way to start, but we've got 35 more chances."

"The car got better and better all day long," added Compton. "The first time out with a new manufacturer, we weren't sure what they were going to need. It was a good day for the Kodiak Melling Dodge.

"To come down here, my second time here, to run the Daytona 500 with basically a new team and a new crew chief, new team members, new manufacturer, to come out and qualify and run the way we ran, we're pretty happy with it."

"We grew up a lot this week," said Tim Culbertson, program manager for Dodge NASCAR Winston Cup Engineering. "From being an infant program, the first time out, taking a pole, winning a 125, having a legitimate shot at winning the Daytona 500, leading nearly half of the race, I think we went from being one year old to about 21 this week. It's (the results) a real tribute to the one-team concept and the engineering effort."

Regrettably, today's race was also marred by the death of one of stock car racing's most popular drivers, Dale Earnhardt. The seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Champion was killed in a crash on the last lap of the race.

The next race on the schedule for the Dodge Intrepid R/T is Sunday, Feb. 25, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. The race will be broadcast at 1 p.m. (Eastern) on FOX.

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series

Friday was another great day for the Dodge team as veteran Joe Ruttman and the Dana Dodge Ram won the season's first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race.

Ruttman started from the pole and led the race for a time before taking a detour through the pits to change tires and fix some body damage. He worked his way back to the front and eventually won a green/white/checker dash to the finish for his 12th truck series win.

"We're really excited that we were able to extend Dodge's streak of excellent results during Daytona Speedweeks," said Ray Richard, Dodge Program Manager for the truck series.

"Our Dodge Engineering Support Team worked very closely with all of our truck teams during the off-season as part of our 'one team' approach, and winning the first race of the season at Daytona is a great accomplishment for Dodge. We're looking forward to the next event at Homestead-Miami Speedway where we hope to again visit Victory Lane."

Sophomore Scott Riggs was 3rd in the ASE/Ultra Wheels Dodge Ram, his best finish in the series to date. Other Dodge-sponsored drivers and their finishing positions were:

  • * Carlos Contreras, Mattel Mexico/Coca-Cola Dodge Ram, 20th
  • * Ted Musgrave, Mopar Dodge Ram, 22nd
  • * Willy T. Ribbs, Dodge-sponsored Dodge Ram, 23rd

Musgrave's truck had a water pump problem, running hot all day and ultimately expiring. Ribbs experienced a number of disappointments beginning with electrical problems during the first lap. His transmission later stuck in second gear. Ribbs' truck was running at the end but finished several laps off the pace due to lengthy stops for repairs.

The next event for Dodge and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will be the Florida Dodge Dealers 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be televised on ESPN beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 4.

NHRA Drag Racing

Four Dodge NHRA Drag Racing drivers made it to the finals this weekend at the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals at Firebird International Raceway, Phoenix, Ariz. Unfortunately, they were all eliminated in the first round.

Changing track conditions hurt the Team Mopar Nitro Funny Car of Dean Skuza today when he smoked the tires and coasted across the finish line with a run of 6.752 seconds and 138.40 mph.

"We decided not to change anything from last night," said Skuza, who took the No. 1 qualifying position with a career-best 4.805-second elapsed time. "The track was totally different from yesterday. We thought we could have matched the nice numbers, but the track just didn't hold it."

No. 9 qualifier Darrell Alderman, driver of the Team Mopar Dodge R/T Pro Stock entry, also fell in the first round of eliminations with a run of 6.930 seconds and a top speed of 198.90 mph.

"The left lane wasn't very good," said the three-time NHRA Winston Pro Stock World Champion. "We were behind all weekend. There is a bright future ahead of us though."

Mopar teammate Mark Osborne posted a faster reaction time than his opponent - .433 to .444 - but the other car moved around him at the top end. Osborne ran a 6.975-second/198.96 mph combination.

"We weren't too good in the left lane," Osborne remarked. "We'll get them in the next race. We have some time for testing and we'll be ready for Gainesville.

Dodge Motorsports R/T Pro Stock driver Larry Morgan posted a 6.936/198.90 outing.

"I tell you what, that left lane was bad," Morgan said. "The car was a little loose. I'm hoping to pick up the pace when we get to Gainesville.

The next event for Dodge in NHRA Winston Drag Racing is the 32nd annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 15-18 at Gainsville, Fla.

Text Provided By Molly Morter

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.