tampabay.com

Quick fixes elusive for Dodge

By BRANT JAMES
Published February 11, 2006


DAYTONA BEACH - Dodge's decision to let its three major teams grope for their own solutions to the aerodynamic problems that have plagued the new Charger has apparently yielded little but anxiety.

While Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and Evernham Motorsports tweak on the new car, Penske Racing South has decided to pull 2004 Intrepids out of inventory to use at races at Fontana, Calif., and Las Vegas. Penske is also working on adjustments to the nose and tail, but decided that it could better compete with older models until solutions are found.

No one has solved the Charger, which was introduced last season.

"If somebody has come up with a solution that works on the race track, I have not seen it," team-owner Ray Evernham said. "If it was the Wind Tunnel 500, we would have won that by now."

Dodge director of motorsports operations John Fernandez said a "run-off" is planned for the end of the month at Kentucky Speedway to determine which team's fix is best. A Dodge-wide fix could not be made in time for California on Feb. 26 even if one is discovered at Kentucky, but Fernandez said that did not amount to throwing away two races.

"It's not that we're all not on the same page. We are," he said. "We're all looking for a better car."

Evernham said he is encouraged "that at least they know there is a problem."

That problem has mostly involved the Charger's controlability in traffic.

"I was so on edge with the Dodge Charger," said Penske's Ryan Newman . "It's difficult to handle, it's difficult to control, and there's guys out there like (Evernham's) Kasey Kahne who are really awesome drivers who struggled and got criticism for overdriving the race car. The only reason he was overdriving the race car was because it's not fast enough."

DECISION TIME: Dale Jarrett , a 21-year veteran, said this is "a very critical year" in terms of whether he will return to race in Nextel Cup next season at age 50.

"I don't want to be out here driving around. I want to be competitive and that's why I continue to do it," he said. "These race cars have no idea how old I am when I sit down. I should be smarter, better driver as years go on. There's nothing I can't do in a race car at 49 that I couldn't at 39."

Jarrett, the 1999 series champion, won at Talladega last fall, but finished 15th in points for the second consecutive year in a frustrating, inconsistent campaign. He finished in the top 10 in points seven straight years before slumping to 26th in 2003.

Daytona has provided a good starting point for Jarrett in the past. He won the Daytona 500 in 1993 and finished fourth in the standings; again in 1996 and finished third. He won the race and the championship in 2000. He also won the Bud Shootout in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

SPARK PLUGS: Brian Vickers blew an engine during the first of two practice sessions for tonight's Bud Shootout.