In motorsports, the past is marked with a wide variety of innovations, successes, and memories; whatever occurs today is still a basic extension of that evolutionary heritage. When Dodge returned to NASCAR for 2001, the car selected was the Intrepid, which was the brand's mid-size vehicle closest to NASCAR's requirements. Dodge had created a Charger concept car back in 1999 that might have worked in NASCAR had it been built by 2001, but apparently the general marketplace did not justify producing it at that time.

For those of us who remember the old days, Dodge was back, but the car didn't have the memorable performance background of the Charger. That will all change as the nameplate is revived, and a new model comes online for the '06 model year. Coupled with DaimlerChrysler's release of the new-generation Hemi engine, the 21st century Charger R/T is poised to build on the heritage of both street and track performance.

"The Dodge Charger is firmly woven into the all-American culture and heritage of stock car racing," says Darryl Jackson, vice-president of Dodge marketing. "The all-new Dodge Charger will exhibit a modern upgrade to the same kind of power, performance, and style that it represented throughout its gloried stock car history."

Unlike its predecessors, the new NASCAR Nextel Cup Charger is based around a four-door model, using the same platform as the Chrysler 300M. what is the same about the new Charger is an aggressive sporty design, rear-wheel drive, and a rumored street motor with that magical 425hp rating. Among the upgrades in the street version are a five-speed transmission, interior creature comforts, modern styling, and safety innovations. We will have a full story on the street Charger as soon as we talk one out of our pals in Michigan.

Meanwhile, on January 11, the day following the new Charger's dramatic introduction at the Detroit Auto Show, Dodge Motorsports was at Daytona International Speedway with the newest NASCAR machine, one that will carry the Charger R/T nameplate back into battle once again.

Technologically, the new Charger race car is far ahead of its circle-track predecessor. Using the full-size wind tunnel now running at Auburn Hills and the company's enormous computer and engineering technology, many variables could be eliminated. Before the first wheel hit the racing pavement in January, simulations had been created to determine how air turbulence would impact the new car design. And once the actual racing season gets underway, newly discovered changes can be digitally made in Auburn Hills and sent immediately to the race team shops in North Carolina and elsewhere.

The new Charger shares the basic template standards that NASCAR dictates for all racing models. It is somewhat shorter and stockier then the version Richard Petty drove to Winston Cup titles in 1972, 1974, and 1975. The flat surface nose that was part of every Charger design from 1966 to 1974 has been replaced by the current Dodge trademark crosshair layout that covers the model line.

"You know it's a Dodge by the way it's coming at you in the front because the grille looks a whole lot like the truck grille," says Petty. "We never called [the Championship-winning car] a Dodge. We called it a Charger. The Charger sounds like racing to me. Hopefully, some of the Charger tradition will rub off on the team."

The changes the Cup cars got during the off-season (e.g., smaller restrictor plate openings) are one of the variables that makes predictions on the Charger's performance potential difficult. On the first day of testing, Jeremy Mayfield in the Evernham Motorsports Dodge Dealers/UAW Charger was fifth overall with a 48.77 at 184.50. A little time will be needed to dial-in the car.