Shaking off the disappointments of 2007, Dodge is off to a strong start this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.
After the first three races, the Dodge Boys have a win (by Ryan Newman) in the Daytona 500 and head into Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway with three Charger drivers in the top 10 in points and five in the top 15.
Newman is second in the standings, while Kasey Kahne is third. Kahne, considered one of the brightest young stars in NASCAR, won six races and finished eighth in the points in 2006. Last year was a disaster for Kahne and the entire Gillett Evernham Motorsports team as they went without a win and failed to get any of their three cars into the Chase for the championship.
Kahne finished a very disappointing 19th in the standings.
George Gillett, who became majority owner of the GEM team midway through season, is pleased by what he has seen from all the Dodge teams so far in 2008.
“A really, really good start,” he said earlier this week. “I think it’s attributable to some really identifiable kinds of things, one of which is the tremendous support we are getting from Dodge. There really has been a change in the attitude and the relationship.”
He pointed to new Chrysler boss Bob Nardelli showing up at Daytona last month with a strong message of support for the Dodge teams.
“You felt it the morning of (the) Daytona (500) when Bob asked us all to come sit with him an hour before the race,” Gillett said. “The coup de gras was to offer to us a $1 million bonus if any one of the teams won the Daytona 500.
“Of course, (team owner) Roger Penske did and we were all thrilled for him. To have six Dodges in the top-eight finishers at Daytona, it was exciting. It really showed a new commitment on Dodge’s part. This isn’t just a Dodge commercial - I don’t want to sound that way - it really is accurate and having (arrived) new to this sport and saw the end of last year and the beginning of this year - there really is a difference.”
As for his own team, which also has Elliott Sadler ninth in the points, Gillett said, “I am very thrilled. The drivers are driving very well, and they’re driving cautiously. You take a look at Kasey’s finishes - three top-10 finishes - and, frankly, where he finished was about the worst that he could have finished.”