Evernham Motorsports revealed its driver line-up for the 2004 NASCAR season last night, confirming that Jeremy Mayfield would be partnered by the combined talents of veteran Bill Elliott and youngster Casey Kahne.

Elliott will run a reduced race schedule, with Busch Series standout Kahne succeeding him as the driver of the #9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge. Mayfield will continue as driver of the #19 entry. Team boss Ray Evernham explains his decisions....

Q:
What does the Evernham line-up look like for 2004?

Ray Evernham:
Kasey is going to run all the races, and right now we're working that stuff out. A lot of it still is undone. Since it's not a retirement tour for Bill, we haven't worked out all the car number stuff yet. We're still looking for partners to come on board with us, so they would certainly have some input on the number. Bill is going to run 10-15 races. On the day Bill Elliott decides it's going to be his last race, he will drive the #9.

Q:
What is Kasey's contract status with Ford?

RE:
From the legal side, his attorneys and things I know, there is no contract. The contract was terminated. Kasey honoured all his agreements with Ford. He did it in a gentlemanly manner, lots of correspondence over the last couple of months, so there is no contract with Ford.

Q:
What did you see in Kasey?

RE:
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. His success there in USAC was very much along the same lines as [Robby] Gordon, [Tony] Stewart and [Ryan] 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 moreso than the talent he's got the commitment. In this sport, if you're going to make big gains you've got to make 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.

Q:
How difficult was it for Bill to go part-time?

RE:
We actually came to this agreement before things started turning around. We knew at some point we were going to have to do something. I think, believe it or not, some of the pressure being off and being able to focus on what we were doing for the future might have helped things turn around. At the same time, a lot of things got in place. Our motor programme made gains, our aero programme, some of the simulation of software that we were working on we got finished and the team started working together as a group knowing that we were going to be going through some changes in 2004. I think we can continue that momentum. Certainly Kasey has got a learning curve, but I believe Jeremy is going to step up and be a good veteran on the team and Bill is always going to be right there to help both of those guys. I believe the momentum will continue, and a year from now we'll be further ahead than we were.

Q:
Which of Kasey's on-track qualities do you like?

RE:
He thinks ahead, looks ahead, anticipates his moves. He stays really calm on the radio and gives really great information about the car. That's what you need in a driver if you're going to win races.

Q:
Did Bill just come to you and ask what you wanted to do?

RE:
Actually, it was a conversation that took place at Michigan. He just said 'I just don't know that I can do this on a full-time basis anymore and we need to start thinking about some options'. All along, he told me he'd never leave me high and dry. We had to talk about a lot of different scenarios. We both said if it's going to happen later anyway, let's just go ahead and make it happen sooner and get a headstart on it. I wanted to respect his wishes whatever they were. I would love to have Bill Elliott driving for me forever, but he's going to remain with me driving on a part-time basis and we're going to be doing some things together. Really, it's the best of all worlds to move our Dodge Dealers team forward.

Q:
Is this the turning point for Evernham Racing?

RE:
I don't know if it's the turning point. It's definitely another level to get to. It probably happened a year or two before we wanted it to happen, but it was eventually going to happen. I think this is another one of those strong blocks in a foundation that will make us better in the future.

Q:
What are your thoughts on Bill not running the Daytona 500?

Q:
I think our cars are going to be prepared good. Bill is going to help prepare our cars, but you've got to remember that Jeremy Mayfield has finished in the top five in the Daytona 500 several times and as high as second. I would still say we've got a pretty good chance at winning it.

Q:
Talk us through your three teams for 2004....

RE:
There will be a third car at several races. The #9 and #19 will run all the races. Whatever races we get set for Bill, there will be a third car. That number of races will be determined by sponsorship. Bill will run the Budweiser Shootout in car #9 and we will run Las Vegas with the new team. Evernham Motorsports is basically going to two-and-a-half teams. Right now we're talking with several different partners. It could possibly be a Dodge car [with Dodge Dealers sponsorship] for some of the races, but we would like to find a partner that would be interested in a part-time programme for the next two or three years.

Q:
Did having a driver with Kasey Kahne's potential make it easier to make the change?

RE:
It certainly did. You've got to have somebody to fill the seat that everybody is comfortable and happy with from your sponsors and partners down to your team members. We all agree that Kasey could be one of the next big stars of the sport.

 

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