When Dodge decided to return to NASCAR, Ray Evernham was the man chosen to lead the way for the auto manufacturer. Evernham made his name by bursting onto the NASCAR scene in the early 1990s with a talented young driver, a wealth of know-how and a passion for the sport. As crew chief for driver Jeff Gordon at Hendrick Motorsports, Evernham won three Cup titles and paired with Gordon to become one of the top combinations in NASCAR history. The role of team owner, however, offered a new and different challenge for the New Jersey native. In an interview with Stock Car Racing, Evernham discussed his life inside the NASCAR pressure cooker.
SCR: You're now in your fourth season as a team owner in the Nextel Cup Series. In that time, has it been easier or harder than what you expected when you decided to form Evernham Motorsports?
EVERNHAM: Nothing is ever easy if you're going to be good at it, that's for sure. There is nothing easy about Nextel Cup racing. I don't want to say it's harder than I thought it was going to be, but there were a lot of things I didn't expect. Sometimes it's the things that you don't know that will hurt you more than the things you already know. If this makes sense, I didn't know how much I didn't know. I'm happy that I did it. Sometimes when you bite off more than you can chew, all you can do is chew faster and harder and that's what I'm doing. I've had to learn a lot of things. To answer your question, it has been hard, but I know we're on the right track and the goals I set are still very much obtainable.
SCR: What's been the toughest part of getting your operation up and running?
EVERNHAM: Just the fact that we had to grow so big so fast. I'm used to having hands-on contact with every person and every project every day, but now I just can't do that. Right now it's just too big, so I've had to get people that thought philosophically like I did to do all those things. It just takes time to build a team like that.
Evernham's choice of Kahne...
Evernham's choice of Kahne to drive the No. 9 Dodge vacated by BillElliott has proven to be a wise move.
SCR: If you had to grade Evernham Motorsports right now, what would your grade be and why?
EVERNHAM: I'd have to grade myself in different areas. There are some areas like effort where I'd have to give myself an A because I've tried very hard. If you ask me if I've made any bad business decisions, sure I have. Have I made some good business decisions? Sure. Have I made those business decisions as timely as I could have? No. It's been really hard. If you look at what I've done here, it's something that has really never been done before. Nobody has ever left as a crew chief and started an organization this big with two race teams, developed a new car and a new engine. I'm a hard grader, so I don't want to grade myself because I won't give myself a good grade.
SCR: On the other hand, what's been the easiest part of getting Evernham Motorsports off the ground and winning races?
EVERNHAM: I don't want to say anything has been easy because it has been tough. I've been lucky enough to have some great people in my camp like Bill Elliott that has helped to make it easier. I've also had a lot of really good support from my friends at Dodge. Plus, I've got some really good supporters from within my team like Sam Johns, who is my competition director, and Eric Warren, who is my technical director. I've also got a good financial guy in Rick Russell. Guys like that have helped take a lot of the burden off my shoulders. I've also had a lot of friends from within the business like Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress who have helped me out a great deal.
SCR: At one point last year, there were a lot of questions about the future of your team because Jeremy Mayfield was rumored to be looking for a job and Bill Elliott was looking at the possibility of retirement. Was that as difficult a situation as it appeared to be or did you have a good grasp of what your situation was going to look like this year?
EVERNHAM: We really didn't know what was going to happen, but we knew we were going to have to make some changes. We were all waiting on Bill's decision and Jeremy's performance needed to improve. Whether Jeremy's situation was on his shoulders or our shoulders, nobody could tell. Jeremy and I both wanted to stay together so we just made up our minds that we were going to ignore all the rumors and work on running good, and that's what we did. Jeremy Mayfield is one of the nicest guys that you will ever meet and I couldn't ask for a better guy to have on my team. I'm thankful that all worked itself out and now our focus is on getting Jeremy back to victory lane.