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Friday, February 11, 2005
Elliott happy to get a ride for Shootout

Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Partially retired, Bill Elliott spends most of his weekends away from the race track enjoying time with his family.

Occasionally, he finds himself missing competition.

"I realize it's a different evolution and you've got to lay it down sometimes,'' Elliott said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. "It's sooner or later, and later might not be the way you want to do it. I feel like now I've done it kind of the way I want to do it, and it's worked out for me.''

Elliott now gets to picks the races he wants to compete in and assuming car owner Ray Evernham can find sponsorship, Elliott gets to race.

But Evernham had nothing available for him for the Budweiser Shootout. Elliott's brother, Ernie, builds engines for car owner Chip Ganassi and he put the two in touch. With Evernham's blessing, Elliott will drive a Dodge for Ganassi on Saturday night.

"Bill and I have sort of a loose agreement and I told him if he had other Cup opportunities, I preferred that they be with Dodge teams,'' Evernham said. "So I had no problem with him hooking up with Chip for this race.''

Elliott will start third in Saturday night's race.

Returning to his roots
Jimmie Johnson is returning to the Busch Series this season to run six races in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Johnson began his NASCAR career in the Busch Series, and approached Jeff Gordon one day for career advice. It led to a friendship and a little bit of mentoring, and eventually opened the door for Johnson to join Hendrick Motorsports in the Nextel Cup series.

Johnson is scheduled to run in Busch races at Atlanta, Chicago, California, Texas and two races at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte.

Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief in the Nextel Cup Series, will also lead the team in the Busch Series events.

"This is a great opportunity on many levels for Chad and me,'' Johnson said. "We had a good time when we ran the Busch race last October at Lowe's Motor Speedway. I think our fans will like it as well. It's fun to mix it up a little bit, and I'll enjoy seeing the tweaks to our paint scheme each time.''

Charging back in bright colors
Dodge is going retro as it returns the Charger to NASCAR competition with versions of its limited-edition cars entered in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout.

Kasey Kahne will drive a metallic-orange Charger called Go ManGo! and Jeremy Mayfield will be in a bright-yellow 'Top Banana' car in the exhibition race.

The cars are celebrating the Charger's return to production after a 27-year hiatus and are modeled after a limited-edition Daytona R/T model that will go on sale this summer.

Dodge phased out the Intrepid -- they haven't been produced commercially since 2003 -- but were still used for competition through last season. Now all Dodge teams will drive a Charger, the model that Richard Petty made famous in the 1970s.

The Charger has not won the Daytona 500 since Petty did it in 1974.

Car owner Ray Evernham, who fields the Charger for Kahne and Mayfield, wants that to change this year.

"Everything has to go right for you, for sure,'' Evernham said. "Are we going to be strong enough? I don't know. Not always the fastest car wins, you know? Some of the best race teams win. But we'll see. It's certainly not out of the question.''

Evernham said he's hopeful the Charger will be competitive on speedways. The Intrepid was strong when it was first introduced in 2001, but then tailed off.

"We were able to refine some of the nose and tail configurations,'' Evernham said. "The Intrepid was built kind of for different rules, and the first year we ran good on the speedways. Then there were a lot of rules changes and we never really ran good on the speedways after that.

"So, we were able to go back and do some things to the nose and tail on this car that should help us slightly on these tracks.''

Junior's latest venture
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is continuing to grow his JR Motorsports operation and will field a car for Mark McFarland in the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series. McFarland will also drive a limited late model schedule for the team.

"It's a fun effort, yet it's a serious effort,'' said Earnhardt, who is using it as a springboard for even more opportunities. "As far as moving on into other series, the sky's the limit."

The late Dale Earnhardt began his empire with a Busch Series team before expanding it to three Nextel Cup cars. Junior called his father's start his "blueprint.'' In a company called Chance 2 Motorsports, co-owned with his stepmother, Teresa, Earnhardt fields a car in the Busch Series for reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr.

The McFarland entry is his first sole ownership venture.

"For JR Motorsports, there's no limit or reins, except for the budget side of it. As it is successful, we will proceed and my roots with DEI will continue to grow. Who says you can't have it all?'' he said.

"I'm definitely determined to build a team that could compete full-time in the Busch Series or, God willing, the Cup series, some day. It's just an egg we've hatched and, hopefully, it will grow and be successful.''

Family matters to Craven
Ricky Craven couldn't make his way to Daytona before taking care of a little family business: The birth of his third child.

Lydia Cathleen Craven was born at 8:47 p.m. on Thursday night -- early enough for Craven to stay home with the family before traveling to Daytona to compete in the Craftsman Truck Series race next Friday.

"She is absolutely beautiful,'' Craven said. "Everybody should get to come home from the hospital on Friday so I can spend a few days with her before I leave for Daytona next week. This is the best start to SpeedWeeks I've ever had.''