End of an Era: Ray Evernham Leaving NASCAR
It's been a long and storied career for one former crew chief and car owner.
Ray Evernham first worked on the Pontiac of a young Jeff Gordon in the then Busch Series before moving to the Winston Cup to crew chief for future champion Alan Kulwicki. After only six weeks together, and several clashes, Evernham left the team before Daytona 1992, and hoped to return to work with Gordon.
"From the first day we ever worked together, boom! We hit it off. We had fun, we did good, he was what I wanted, and I was what he wanted." Evernham said.
Bill Davis, Gordon's owner at the time, didn't want to hire the crew chief his young driver wanted. Ford wouldn't have it and sent him to the Busch Series.
Evernham would stay with Gordon until 1999. Together, the pair had 47 wins, three championships, and a win at the inaugural Brickyard 400. The pair even formed Gordon/Evernham Motorsports, and even though the team was short lived, they had success and fun with the project.
The famed crew chief left the team in 1999 and formed Evernham Motorsports. It was the revitalization of Dodge in the Winston Cup Series, and was successful it's first full year with drivers Bill Elliot and Casey Atwood. The first year saw the team win two races, six top fives and twelve top tens.
In total, Evernham Motorsports has 15 wins, 67 top fives and 135 top tens with drivers Elliot, Atwood, Jeremy Mayfield, Elliot Sadler, Kasey Kahne and Patrick Carpentier.
His career as a team owner, however, wasn't without controversy. In August 2006 Mayfield was fired by the team, and replaced by Bill Elliot. Mayfield allegedly found out about his termination when he got onto NASCAR.com.
"It really wasn't between me and Jeremy—it was about the performance of the racecar," Evernham said. "The 19 car hasn't been performing like it should be. It's pretty far off of where other cars are, and we've tried everything we could try to get the performance up.
"We've tried lots of different things, and it's out of the top 35 in points, so we brought in Bill to help us get the car in the show and help us figure out what we've got to do to get the performance up."
Mayfield told the press that Evernham and his developmental driver Erin Crocker had a “close personal relationship” and “claimed Evernham was spending too much time with driver Erin Crocker and not enough on his Nextel Cup teams.”
Evernham admitted the relationship hurt Crocker's career, and she no longer works for the team. In July 2007, the team owner told ESPN he still has a relationship with his former driver.
"I don't think it's any secret that because of the personal relationship between Erin and I it hurt her career. The proper thing to do, and something her and I would like to do, is move her to another race team. I think the girl has a lot of talent. But if I sit here and say to somebody, 'Look, she's got a lot of talent, you should sponsor her,' my credibility is not good because of the personal relationship.''
Two years after the controversy, and a year after selling eighty percent in the company he formed nearly ten years ago, Evernham has announced he'll be leaving NASCAR to own East Lincoln Speedway. The former crew chief says it'll be an effort to "get back into grassroots racing."
We wish Evernham success in his track owner future, but with his record, success is sure to come.
Thanks to Jayski, the Hartford Courant, NASCAR.com, Jayski and ESPN for the quotes in this article and to Racing Reference for the stats used.
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