#9 and Bill
Elliott are synonymous
Ending months of rampant
speculation about his future driving career, Bill Elliott announced
this week he’s stepping out as a full-time driver in the NASCAR
Nextel Cup Series, instead opting for a part-time ride in 2004.
Elliott plans to vacate the # 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid he’s
driven for Evernham Motorsports since the team’s inception in 2001
to run a limited schedule for Evernham, turning over driving duties
to NASCAR Busch Series rookie driver Kasey Kahne. Elliott will also
take part in several celebrations at select events next season to
thank his fans for their support.
The announcement was part of a news conference held by Evernham
Motorsports in New York City as NASCAR geared up for its annual
Elliott said family obligations played a part in his decision to cut
back on racing, as well as the chance for him to get closer to his fans.
“This decision involved a number of people and was something I took
very seriously,” said Elliott. “I said before that there were
several people and several other important factors that I was going
to consider before I made my decision. One of the most important was
my family. My son Chase is becoming involved in racing and I want to
be able to devote more time to these types of family activities.
Based on that and all that’s gone on over the course of the last
several months, I feel the best option - for my family, my fans,
NASCAR and Ray’s organization - is to run a limited schedule. My new
role at Evernham Motorsports will still allow me to give back to a
sport and to the fans that have given me so much over the years.”
Team owner Ray Evernham also announced that in addition to running
for the Rookie of the Year title in the Nextel Cup Series next
season, Kahne will also run the full Busch Series schedule in 2004
with their eye on the 2004 Busch Series crown.
Evernham will also supply motors for Kahne’s #38 Great Clips Busch
Series team, which will switch from Ford to Dodge for 2004.
“It’s an honor to succeed such a well-liked and successful champion
as Bill Elliott,” said Kahne. “I couldn’t think of a better way to
grow as a driver than working with a leader as great as Ray
Evernham. I hope to continue the success that Ray, Bill and Jeremy
have begun at Evernham Motorsports. Bill is called ‘Awesome’ for a
reason, and knowing that I have him to go to for help and support
will only make me a better driver.”
The future of Elliott and Kahne has been one of the hottest topics
of the off-season. It had been widely rumored that Elliott, the 1988
Winston Cup Champion, would retire following the 2003 season, but a
strong performance late in the year coupled with his victory in the
penultimate race of the season at Rockingham quickly quieted those
Elliott says retirement is on the horizon, just not right now.
"I think that's going to be several years down the road, eventually
yes.” Elliott said. “The way I look at it, I might get in a Busch
car next year. I might run a truck some next year. I'm going to run
the dirt car some next year. I'm going to run these Cup cars some
next year. I'm going to do quite a bit of R&D work for Ray,
developing the new chassis for him. I don't foresee myself slowing
down a lot other than not just having the hectic schedule of running
week in and week out as far as the Cup schedule is concerned.”
"We had a lot of fun the last third of the season. If we could have
kept everything the same it would have probably been OK to run
another full season, but realistically, I'm at a point in my life,
I'm getting close to 50, and I need to slow down.”
Elliott plans to run 10-15 races driving a third Evernham
Motorsports Dodge, and will stay on as a coach and mentor to Kahne.
Details of Elliott’s role as a driver for Evernham next season are
still being ironed out, and the team is currently pursuing
sponsorship opportunities for Elliott. Plans in place right now call
for Elliott to drive the #9 car in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona
on Feb. 7 but he will not drive in the Daytona 500. Elliott’s first
points race of 2004 will be at Las Vegas on March 7 driving a third
Evernham Motorsports entry.
The announcement also put an end to questions regarding Kahne’s
plans for 2004. Kahne, a graduate of the open-wheel sprint car
ranks, has become one of the most coveted drivers this past year.
Originally under contract with Ford, Kahne was rumored to be headed
to Robert Yates Racing to pilot a third entry for the team.
Kahne finished seventh in the final Busch Series points standings
with four top-5 and 14 top-10 finishes, including a win in the final
race of the season at Homestead.
Evernham said he’s had his eye on Kahne since the early days of
"I'm a big open wheel fan, and I've known of Kasey's career for
three or four years driving the sprints and midgets at a young age,”
Evernham said. “His success there in USAC was very much along the
same lines as Gordon, Stewart and Newman if you look at his record.
He's a very committed young man. He's very mature for his age. He's
very committed to being a champion racecar driver. I believe more so
than the talent he's got the commitment. In this sport, if you're
going to make big gains you've got to make a big commitment, and at 23
years old, I believe he's ready to do that. He's a good kid. He
knows an awful lot about a racecar."
Kahne and Evernham did not go into details regarding Kahne’s
defection to Dodge, saying only that Kahne had “completed all his
obligations” to Ford.
"From the legal side, his attorneys, and things I know, say there is no
contract,” Evernham said. “The contract was terminated. Kasey
honored all his agreements with Ford.”
Tommy Baldwin will join Evernham Motorsports as team director for
the #9 team. As previously announced, Jeremy Mayfield remains in the
No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge for Evernham Motorsports in 2004,
with Kenny Francis returning as team director.
“I’m fortunate that things have fallen into place like they have,”
said Evernham. “Bill and I worked closely to make sure we were
taking this company in the right direction, but I also wanted to
make sure that he had the space to really make the right decision
for himself. In making that decision, I think we as an organization
have made some strong personnel moves.
“Kasey Kahne is a bright, young star in this sport, and he will
accomplish a lot with guidance from one of the best in the business.
Tommy Baldwin is an asset, and I feel very lucky to have him on
board. And, we have a solid base with Jeremy Mayfield and Kenny
Francis returning as well. With these moves, we are on track with
the vision I have for this company, and these additions only make us
stronger as we move into 2004.”
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