A Winning Combination
October 14, 1999, was a historic day in auto racing history. A partnership was forged between Ray Evernham and Dodge, bringing together one of the sport's premier talents with an auto manufacturer returning to the series for the first time in nearly 23 years.
The Dodge and Evernham partnership was the beginning of an incredible journey which started with the formation of Evernham Motorsports and a 500-day countdown to Dodge's return to the sport beginning with the 2001 Daytona 500.
One of the first steps was securing a quality driver. The team accomplished the feat, announcing on March 10, 2000, that legendary Bill Elliott would anchor the program as driver of the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge. Just over two months later, on May 25, Evernham Motorsports announced the driver for the No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge would be Casey Atwood.
The countdown continued. With 170 days remaining until their Winston Cup debut together, Dodge and Evernham Motorsports reached another milestone when the Dodge was approved by NASCAR. Approval for the Dodge engine followed 85 days later. On February 11, 2001, history was made again as Elliott captured the pole for the 2001 Daytona 500 – the first Winston Cup pole for his team owner and the first for Dodge in almost 23 years. In addition, Casey Atwood added his name to the record books when he became the youngest pole winner in the modern era at Phoenix in November. The season ended on a high note as Elliott provided Evernham Motorsports with the organization's first win at Homestead-Miami in the season's final race.
Evernham Motorsports continued to grow and, in 2002, added a new 50,000-square-foot facility to its Statesville complex. The new addition included a new base of operations for Dodge's Research & Design Center, which allows the manufacturer's engineers to work side by side with their Nextel Cup teams, sharing appropriate information. Jeremy Mayfield also joined the organization as the driver of the No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge. Mayfield's impressive win in the Winston Open added to a historic year for Evernham Motorsports as “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” cemented his name in the bricks of Indy when he won in dominating fashion at the Brickyard 400. The monumental week was preceded by Elliott's exciting win at Pocono.
The duo returned to the track in 2003 with their Dodges, backed by the nearly 3,000 Dodge Dealers across the country. History repeated itself and the organization visited victory lane in November with Elliott at “The Rock.” Mayfield added some fireworks of his own, winning the pole at Talladega and narrowly missing trips to victory lane, notching runner-up finishes at Richmond and Dover .
In 2004, Elliott began a new chapter in his career. He scaled his NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule back to part-time competition, turning the No. 9 Dodge over to rookie Kasey Kahne. In addition to serving as a coach and mentor to Kahne, the 2004 Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year, and teammate Mayfield, Elliott played a pivotal role in the research and development program at Evernham Motorsports.
For the fourth consecutive year, an Evernham Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge visited victory lane. Evernham's teams scored one victory (Mayfield at Richmond ), 18 top-five and 28 top-10 finishes. The No. 9 and No. 19 combined for an Evernham Motorsports team-high six poles. While Kahne was capturing the Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors and finishing 13th in the season point standings, Mayfield was earning one of the 10 berths in the Chase for the Nextel Cup and finished 10th in the final standings.