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NASCAR WCUP: Bill Elliott Drives Intrepid R/T to Front of Daytona Field

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Posted By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Exactly one year after Dodge announced its initial three NASCAR Winston Cup teams in Daytona International Speedway's victory lane, it is back in victory lane again, led by Bill Elliott, veteran driver for Evernham Motorsports.

Elliott won today's Bud Pole award with a blazing 183.565 mph lap, a record-tying fourth pole for him in the Daytona 500. He also won the pole in 1985 at 205.114 mph, 1986 at 205.39 mph and 1987 at 210.364 mph (track record).

"I had no idea when we announced the program we'd be back so soon," said Elliott. "But the No. 9 must like Daytona. I knew that Ray was good at his program. If anybody could do it, he could do it. I'm not only proud of him but of (crew chief) Mike Ford and all the other guys. The guys were really good to me. This could set the stage for the rest of the season."

For Ray Evernham, the 500-day countdown is ending on a number he likes - 1 - as in the pole position.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Evernham. "It's unbelievable when you think about it. To start where we did 500 days ago and come so far to get here is amazing. And to make as much progress as we did once we got here really made the difference. Having Bill Elliott to drive your car isn't a bad deal either. For a new team, and a new team owner, it's really special.

"I'm really proud of Bill Elliott and Mike Ford and all the guys on the team," he added. "They have worked and worked to get this program going, and they have made it happen. I'd also like to thank our sponsors for all their support. Dodge has been our teammate in building this program, and the UAW-National Training Center, Mountain Dew, Valvoline, Stihl and Ingersoll Rand have been tremendous partners. It's a great day for all of us."

Rookie Casey Atwood, in the No. 19 Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T, ended the day with a 25th place starting spot. His best lap was a 49.798, 180.730 mph.

"We needed to find some speed, and we did," said Mike Ford, crew chief for the No. 9 Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T. "We really paid attention to detail this morning. We cleaned up all the edges on the car, rubbed and buffed, and didn't leave anything on the table."

"We're a lot better today than yesterday," said No. 19 crew chief Patrick Donahue. "We're going to put the motor from the No. 9 into the No. 19 and practice on Monday. If we go faster, we'll try again. If not, we'll stand on our time. I'm real proud of Casey and our team today. Now, we just want to get another couple of tenths of time."

"We're very proud of what Bill and Ray were able to do here today," said Lou Patane, Vice President Motorsports Operations for Dodge. "Ray has been a partner to Dodge and its dealers from the day we began this countdown nearly 500 days ago. Teaming up with some of the brightest minds in the sport and developing what we call a collective I.Q. has really helped us make a lot of progress in a short period of time."

Elliott's position on the pole could mean good things are ahead. He went on to win from the pole in both 1985 and 1987. Today's achievement marked his 50th career pole, highest among all active Winston Cup drivers. He is third among all drivers in all-time superspeedway poles with 43, behind Cale Yarborough (46) and David Pearson (58).

Elliott's pole for this year's Daytona 500 is Dodge's 166th, yet first since the late Neil Bonnett topped qualifying for the 1978 Bristol race.

Bud Shootout Outlook

The excitement of winning the Bud Pole will shift to the background as the Elliott team prepares for the Bud Shootout tomorrow. Elliott has the most career starts in the event, with 15, and boasts 12 consecutive starts. He won in 1987 and holds the record for the fastest race, running 197.802 in 1987.

"The Bud Shootout is a great setup for the Daytona 500," said Evernham. "We get to see how our car runs in the draft, especially with that blade on it. And, I get to work with Bill in a race for the first time."

"We've got a good car for the Shootout, but we don't have much time on it," said Ford. "We had it in the wind tunnel on January 29, and it looked good. We've made some improvements since then."

Text Provided By Debby Robinson

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