Seven years into its re-entry to
NASCAR's top series, Dodge has pro-
vided ample proof that, in racing,
momentum can be a fleeting thing.
Sterling Marlin of Chip Ganassi Racing with
Felix Sabates held the Dodge banner high in
2002, its second season back, winning two races
for the second straight year and building a 91-
point lead in the Cup Series standings after the
Southern 500 at Darlington in September. But
Marlin wrecked the next week at Richmond and
subsequently had to sit out the season's final
seven races to short-circuit his title hopes.
The next year, Penske Racing joined the
Dodge fold and Ryan Newman won a circuit
best eight races. While five wrecks and two
mechanical issues forced Newman out early too
often for him to win the 2003 title, it seemed it
would be only a matter of time before he and
the No. 12 team sealed the deal. But still, that
In 2006, the baton passed to Ray Evernham's
team and driver Kasey Kahne, who won six
races but stalled out in the Chase for the Cup
and wound up eighth in the standings. No wor-
ries, it seemed, with the young driver's star only
beginning to rise. Then came a 2007 season in
which he faltered so badly - no wins and only
one top-five finish - it seemed almost impossi-
ble to fathom how such a slide occurred.
With that as a backdrop, the optimism pro-
fessed by Dodge brand director Mike Accavitti
for 2008 could be viewed as effusive.
"It is in our DNA that we don't give up,"
Accavitti said. "When we get knocked down we
get stronger. Our teams are that way, too. ...You
can always throw in the towel, or you can do
what we did and never give up. We kept trying,
one race and one day at a time, and we were
pleased with the progress we made and toward
end of the year last year. There was some
excitement going on there."
Pep talk notwithstanding, there is actually
some foundation there.
Kurt Busch surged into last year's Chase
after Pat Tryson took over as his crew chief, and
only Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch scored more
points in the second half of the sport's regular
season than Kurt Busch and his No. 2 Dodge
Ganassi got a spring back in its step when
Juan Pablo Montoya won at Infineon Raceway,
the first win for Ganassi since Jamie McMurray
got a victory while subbing for the injured
Marlin in 2002.
And, mercifully, 2007 finally ended for
Kahne and Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
Things went so far south there last year that you
have to figure a new year can only be better.
In all candor, one of Dodge's biggest prob-
lems in recent years has seemed to be its teams'
inability to get out of each other's way.
When Dodge returned to the Cup Series in
2001, the mantra was a "one-team approach"
with aggressive plans for extensive sharing
across the various owners. What developed,
however, was a series of internal disagreements
over various changes the manufacturer sought to
its cars that manifested itself in different teams
actually running different models in the same
race at times.
That all came to a head last season, however,
Accavitti said at a team owners' meeting with
Dodge officials. With Chevrolet wiping the
floor with its rivals in the Cup Series, it was
time for a change.
"The conclusion we came to was that once
we were all in the top 10 we could start talking
about it being every man for himself," Accavitti
said. "We all came to a gentleman's agreement
to bring the whole pack forward together. We
needed to right the Dodge ship."
The new-found spirit of cooperation will get
a strong test as 2008 goes along as the teams try
to institute a new engine package that already
has NASCAR approval.
Busch's surge last year, which included a
pair of victories, puts him in position to next try
to sustain a forward drive into 2008. Actually,
however it was Newman who seemed to take to
the Car of Tomorrow as it was being introduced
last year - he had by far the most points
among Dodge drivers in the 16 races using the
car in 2007 - and that's the car everyone is
racing all season in 2008.
Montoya's victory at Infineon was hardly a
stunner, since the former Formula 1 driver is
one of the world's most accomplished road rac-
ers. But he also finished second in the Allstate
400 at Indianapolis, where he'd won in an
IndyCar, and finished every lap in two races run
at Martinsville, finishing eighth there in the fall.
Promising young driver Reed Sorenson returns
as a teammate and they're joined by a driver
who could certainly benefit from the lessons
Montoya learned as a Cup rookie - reigning
IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 champion
Patrick Carpentier, another driver with exten-
sive open-wheel experience, joins Kahne and
Elliott Sadler as GEM tries to shake off the
malaise of what can only be seen as a lost sea-
Petty Enterprises' Bobby Labonte finished
18th in the 2007 final standings, the best for
that team since 1999. Kyle Petty once again will
drive the No. 45 except for a mid-summer hia-
tus to work with TNT's broadcasting team.
Ken Schrader and John Andretti both tested
in the No. 49 Dodge for BAM Racing at
Daytona last week.