Back on October 14, 1999, when Dodge announced its return to the NASCAR Winston Cup series, it's unlikely any of us Mopar fans believed an Intrepid R/T would have been poised to win the '02 points championship entering the season's final stretch.
After Dodge's success in late 2001 with wins by three of the four manufacturer's teams (Chip Ganassi, Bill Davis, and Ray Evernham), everyone expected great things from the Dodge Boys in 2002. Not wanting to disappoint the fans, the list of accomplishments began with the biggest race in the sport-the 44th Annual Daytona 500. Ward Burton claimed that prize aboard his Bill Davis Racing No. 22 Caterpillar-sponsored Intrepid R/T. It was his first Daytona 500 win and Dodge's first win since returning to the series.
Sterling Marlin, driving the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge, sat atop the points standings for much of the season, following a Second Place finish at Rockingham in the Subway 400 held in February. The hits just kept on coming, with Dodge Intrepids recording six wins, including three back-to-back-to-back. Marlin racked up two wins early in the season, bringing the trophies back to the Dodge/DaimlerChrysler camp with victories in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, followed two weeks later with the checker in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway. Burton also returned to victory lane for the second time that season in the New England 300, held at New Hampshire International Speedway, and two were won by Awesome Bill Elliott driving for car owner Ray Evernham aboard the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Intrepid R/T.
The wins by Awesome Bill were especially meaningful, with the Pennsylvania 500 win at Pocono Raceway coming on a Dodge grand slam weekend. That weekend saw the manufacturer claim victories in four different racing series. While only a few can fully understand the pride felt by the driver, team owner, and Dodge executives after Elliott's dominating win in the Ninth Annual Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was undoubtedly the second biggest jewel in the NASCAR Winston Cup crown.
But did you ever wonder how Dodge reached the heights it has in two short years?
Earlier in the '02 season, we sat down with Bob Wildberger, senior manager of NASCAR Operations for Dodge Motorsports, and he explained how the teams campaigning the Intrepid R/Ts were chosen.
What It Means To Dodge
Mopar Muscle (MM): Bob, we all know that one of Dodge's reasons for returning to racing is to sell cars, but being around you and everyone involved with the Winston Cup program, it goes much deeper than that.