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The Callahan Report: Evernham takes big leap, leaves Gordon, Hendrick

30 September 1999

By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
Ray Evernham
NEW ORLEANS--Ray Evernham took a step up the power chain in NASCAR Winston Cup Racing today. He has been granted his request to leave Hendrick Motorsports. Evernham wants to start his own racing team. If past performance is any indication, he will be a huge success.

Of course, chemistry plays a very large part in the success of any racing team. Evernham has had the luxury of having the perfect mix of talent surrounding him. His driver for the past six racing seasons has been Jeff Gordon. The Evernham-Gordon combination has resulted in the NASCAR Winston Cup title in three of the last six years.

Evernham certainly deserves much of the credit for the success seen by the team. He was instrumental in setting up the team that has been virtually unbeatable until this season. Even though Gordon is in a hopeless position for winning the championship a fourth time in 1999, he has visited victory lane five times. The task of running the day-to-day team operation will be left to engineer Brian Whitesell, effective immediately.

"I have tremendous confidence in Brian and I'm looking forward to many more wins and more championships with him and our Rainbow Warriors team," Gordon said. "We've got a great organization. I'm looking forward to the future."

Evernham has endured immense pressure being a crew chief. His intake of ulcer medications is about to double. Not only will he be responsible for his own performance, but he will have a financial stake in things as well. He was given the opportunity to make more money without the headaches that come with team ownership.

"Ray let us know he had reached a point where he didn't want to be a crew chief anymore," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "In response to that, we were planning to move him up in the organization, but decided he wanted to pursue having a team of his own."

Evernham and Gordon have had an amazing record in their six-year run on the circuit. Both know the transition will not be easy, but both are confident they will continue to be successful on their own.

"I'm so thankful that he (Hendrick) enabled me to work with Jeff Gordon, who is an incredible winner and may be the best talent this sport has ever seen, as well as our Rainbow team and crew," Evernham said. "Jeff and that crew will be winning races for a long time to come."

Evernham will certainly be a "hands-on" car owner. He can be seen on his back every Sunday, working on the DuPont Chevrolet. He will go head-to-head with Jack Roush as one of the few men in racing who are knowledgeable in all aspects of the sport.

Gordon and Whitesell are optimistic. They have developed a good working relationship through the years. Whitesell began working with Evernham and Gordon in 1992. They know each other's demeanor and how to communicate. Whitesell has been an important part of the team's success.

"This is just a fantastic opportunity," Whitesell said. "I'm looking forward to the job the best way I know how. Working with Ray has helped me understand the dynamics involved between driver, crew chief and our spotter on race days. Jeff Gordon and I have always communicated very well also, and that's extremely important."

Gordon had better be looking forward to the competition as well. With Ray Evernham steering at the controls of an opposing racing team, Gordon will be at a disadvantage. After all, Evernham knows his every thought, his every move.

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