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Dodge teams experience difficulties

Posted: Thursday, July 05, 2001

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As a car owner, Chip Ganassi never gets tired of winning races. Or championships.

He won four consecutive CART titles with three drivers starting in 1996, and he expected to parlay some of that success into the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. But since he expanded to the stock car circuit 11 months ago, Ganassi has had an excruciating wait for victories much less championships.

It's the same feeling for Petty Enterprises, Evern ham Motorsports, Melling Racing and Bill Davis Racing.

The five teams that put their faith into Dodge's much-bantered return to the sport after nearly 15 years are still waiting for the results to match the ballyhoo. The new Intrepid started out quickly with the pole position for the season-opening Daytona 500, and it's done a slow fade since.

None of the 10 cars has won during the first 16 races. Worse yet, they have rarely been competitive.

''All Chip has ever done is race,'' said one of his drivers, Sterling Marlin. ''Chip came in here and really got things organized (when he bought controlling interest of SABCO Racing). Chip knows racing, and he knows what it takes to go in the right direction.''

For now, that means approaching each race with equal shares of optimism and reality. Ganassi remains patient as the Dodge teams work through all the setbacks, expected and otherwise. Each week seems to bring new challenges as the five race teams continue to gather information on the car.

The Dodge engine wasn't created through an evolution of racing experience. It was born on a computer screen two years ago. The body style for the current racer wasn't even approved until two months before the season.

It's clear Dodge's return won't be a success until it wins.

''For us to build our image with motorsports, we have to be successful, and successful includes winning,'' said Jim Julow, vice president of Dodge Global Brand Center. ''We've got to find a way to do that.''

Of the 10 drivers behind the wheel of a Dodge, only Marlin has been a threat to win. He's fifth in the Winston Cup point standings with five top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 16 races. The rest of Team Dodge has struggled.

Bill Elliott, who won the pole for the Daytona 500, thought the mix of Dodge and car owner Ray Evernham would end a winless streak that dates to 1994. Instead, he's 17th in the point standings with only three top-10 finishes.

''I can't say across the board everything hasn't gone as we've planned,'' Evernham said. ''Probably our finishes are the only thing that haven't gone as we'd planned. We're missing that balance at the race track. The big thing we need right now is time. We've got to ride it out.''

REACH Don Coble at doncoble@mindspring.com.



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