Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dodge Makes Plenty of Noise in Comeback

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dodge Makes Plenty of Noise in Comeback

Article excerpt

DAYTONA BEACH -- Casey Atwood saw red.

He wasn't angry. He just saw red. Thousands and thousands of bits of red, hats and shirts along the backstretch of Daytona International Speedway as he ran the three pace laps that began yesterday's 43rd Daytona 500.

"I couldn't believe all the red Dodge hats on the backstretch when I started the race," said Atwood, a 20-year-old NASCAR rookie. "Everybody had a red hat on."

Welcome back to NASCAR, Dodge.

The manufacturer made its return to NASCAR racing yesterday, and the results were encouraging. The first three spots on the starting grid belonged to Dodge drivers and the cars combined to lead for more laps (93) than any other make, excluding Chevrolet (94). Three drivers -- pole-sitter Bill Elliott (fifth), Sterling Marlin (seventh) and Stacy Compton (10th) -- finished in the top 10.

Not bad for a car that hasn't run a NASCAR race since Phil Good drove a Dodge June 9, 1985 at Pocono.

"We finished strong," said Ray Evernham, team owner of Evernham Motorsports, which sponsored Atwood and Elliott. "It goes to show you we can come here with brand new cars and be competitive and run 500 miles. Our finishes are more than we could have hoped for."

Marlin had the best Dodge. Though he finished seventh, he led 11 times for a total of 39 laps, more than any other driver but Ward Burton, who led 53 laps but finished 35th, 27 laps behind winner Michael Waltrip. Marlin, though, was hurt when he cut a tire on a restart on Lap 163.

"We got lucky and got our lap back and we led a lot of the race," said Marlin, the 1994 and 1995 Daytona 500 winner. "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 them. That would have been the way to start, but we've got 35 more chances."

It wasn't a good start for Elliott, however. The pole-sitter, who ran a 183.565 qualifying speed to edge out Compton (182.682) for the top spot, quickly dropped to the back of the pack. He at one time was running 42nd in the 43-car field, ahead of only Rusty Wallace, who lost a lap after being penalized for speeding on pit road.

But the 1985 and 1987 Daytona 500 champ managed to work his way back through the field, and earned the top-10 finish after avoiding a 19-car wreck on Lap 174. …

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