DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dodge has turned to its one-time star Richard Petty in an effort to get back to NASCAR's top ranks.
Petty Enterprises and Bill Davis Racing will join Evernham Motorsports for Dodge's return to Winston Cup after a 16-year absence.
Ending months of speculation, Dodge announced Saturday at Daytona International Speedway that both teams will switch from Pontiacs for the 2001 season.
DaimlerChrysler said last year it would return to NASCAR's top circuit, hiring Ray Evernham -- Jeff Gordon's longtime crew chief -- as its point man.
He formed Evernham Motorsports and began development of the Dodge Intrepid race car, which is scheduled to compete for the first time in next year's Daytona 500. Evernham has yet to hire his drivers, but says he expects to have one veteran and one youngster.
Petty and Davis will bring established teams to Dodge. Petty -- who was Chrysler's biggest star during its years in NASCAR -- expects to field Intrepids for son Kyle, grandson Adam and John Andretti.
The Petty team has been fielding Dodge trucks in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Adam Petty, 19 and the first fourth-generation NASCAR driver, is competing this year in the Busch Series and plans to run five Winston Cup races in 2000 before taking aim at rookie of the year in 2001.
"History is a pretty big thing around Petty Enterprises but the future is a pretty big thing, too," Adam said. "Everybody there is proud of things my great-grandad, my grandad and my dad have done, as well as other drivers like John Andretti. It's hard not to look back when you have a heritage like that.
"But you don't have a whole lot of time to look back when you're moving forward."
Davis will move to Dodge with drivers Ward Burton and current rookie Dave Blaney.
Chrysler has a tradition of victory in NASCAR. The Petty team was its most prolific winner with 237 of its 271 victories in Chrysler brands.
Richard Petty had 175 of his record 200 career victories and six of his series-best seven championships in Plymouths and Dodges.
But the automaker withdrew tech and parts support in the late '70s. Petty went winless in 1978, and jumped to General Motors the next year, leaving the few remaining Chryslers in the hands of underfunded independents.
The late Neil Bonnett accounted for the last Dodge victory, in the Los Angeles Times 500 on Nov. 20, 1977.
Chrysler began its comeback in the sport with Dodges in the truck series in 1995. Since factory backing began in 1997, Dodges have won seven races.
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