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Evernham ignores gripes about Dodges

Ray Evernham was elated.

Six Dodge drivers will start among the top 10 for today's Pennzoil 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, led by Evernham Motorsports drivers Bill Elliott and Casey Atwood side by side in the front row.

Some weren't so happy.

Drivers and team owners with other manufacturers complained that Dodge had an unfair aerodynamic advantage because of a midseason change to the front air dam that increased the make's downforce.

Evernham said that's hogwash.

"I get confused when they talk about all that," said Evernham, who spearheaded Dodge's return to Winston Cup racing this season after an absence of more than two decades.

"Not everybody is going to be equal all the time. It's just the nature of the beast. For some reason, the Dodges are a little bit better on the flat tracks. Every car has characteristics at different tracks, period."

TICK TOCK: Time is running out for Mark Martin. The veteran has three races left to reach Victory Lane.

If he fails, it will be only the third time in 14 seasons he did not win at least one race in the No. 6 Ford. The others were 1988, his first season with owner Jack Roush, and 1996.

Martin, whose last victory was 59 races ago at Martinsville in April 2000, runs well at Homestead. He was third in 1999 and fourth in 2000. He starts 16th, but was third fastest in Saturday's final practice with a lap of 146.323 mph.

MONEY MATTERS: Jeff Gordon appears headed for a fourth Winston Cup championship, which pays a $3.6-million bonus. But plenty of drivers are jostling for positions and bonuses.

Second place pays $1.35-million, then it's $992,000 for third, $804,000 for fourth and $691,000 for fifth. In the standings, 193 points separate second-place Ricky Rudd from fifth-place Sterling Marlin.

Just 95 points separate seventh-place Dale Earnhardt Jr., eighth-place Bobby Labonte and ninth-place Kevin Harvick. The bonus money difference? Seventh pays $510,000, eighth $432,000 and ninth $378,000.

The bonus money stops with the 25th-place finisher in the final standings, which pays $65,000. Robert Pressley holds that spot, with Michael Waltrip 11 points behind.

ELUSIVE WINS: Homestead, which is hosting its third Winston Cup race, is one of four tracks in the series at which Gordon has not won. The others are Phoenix, Chicagoland and Texas.

A NEW STAGE: Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of the rock band Kiss were the grand marshals for Saturday's Busch Grand National race. The duo gave the command for drivers to start their engines and rode in the pace car. All four members of the band are pictured in their trademark face paint on the hood of Sterling Marlin's No. 40 Dodge for today's Winston Cup race.

NUTS AND BOLTS: Rick Mast was forced to a backup No. 90 Ford after a single-car crash in practice. Ward Burton's No. 22 Dodge was the fastest car in final practice, 148.674 mph. Dale Earnhardt's widow, Teresa, was named NASCAR Winston Cup Illustrated person of the year, chosen by readers.

_ JOANNE KORTH

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