Elliott looking to continue incredible roll

Friday, August 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) _ The lean years have given way to a threat of dominance by Bill Elliott, who will try to win for the third week in a row.

That might seem like a bit of a reach, considering his record on NASCAR's road courses _ one career victory in 1983 at defunct Riverside International Raceway. But Elliott can't be faulted for feeling confident regardless of the surroundings.

``I like road courses,'' he said Thursday as he began preparing to race Sunday at Watkins Glen International. ``We did all right earlier out at Sears Point.''

Elliot was referring to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., where he finished eighth in June. Elliott has not finished in the top five at Watkins Glen since 1993.

In 1995, he started his own team _ for whom he was winless in six seasons _ then went to work last year for Ray Evernham. Elliott won last season for the first time since 1994, showed signs of becoming a factor earlier this year and now is on a major roll.

He has three straight front-row starts, including two poles, and victories the last two weeks in Long Pond, Pa., and Indianapolis. The 46-year-old driver gives most of the credit to Evernham, who stunned most people in NASCAR by hiring a driver generally believed to be well beyond his prime despite 40 career victories and the 1988 Winston Cup championship.

``It's a great feeling,'' Elliott said. ``Ray has given me another chance. I've got a good, stable situation right now, and that helps me focus on doing what I need to do.

``The group that Ray has put together has been so supportive of me, and that has helped me out a tremendous amount, and that just makes my job easier. I'm the one people see on Sunday afternoon, but it's the people back in the shop that really put it together and really help make it happen.''

Elliott's history on road courses would suggest they won't make it happen Sunday. Evernham's past _ before he became a car owner _ makes it seem plausible.

Before starting his own team, Evernham was the crew chief for Jeff Gordon, guiding him to three of his four Winston Cup titles and 47 of his 58 career victories. He also called the shots for six of Gordon's NASCAR record seven road-course victories.

But Evernham might be a bit distracted this week after watching Elliott win the Brickyard 400, NASCAR's second biggest race. The usually cool Evernham was barely able to speak after the race, choking back tears and twice turning away from the camera during an interview.

``I guess I did get a little emotional on Sunday, but I don't think anyone understands how hard it was to get to this point,'' he said. ``There's been a lot of suffering to put this deal together, not just by me, but by everyone involved.''

Evernham did more than just start a team. He became the point man for Dodge in its return last season after a 16-year absence from NASCAR's elite division, working hard for his team and the others.

Now, the developmental work is done, and Evernham is beginning to look like the man who helped dominate the sport in the last decade.

The same can't be said for Gordon. Still, he wouldn't be surprised to end his 29-race losing streak.

Despite a run of bad luck and mediocre performances this season, Gordon is the favorite.

``We've had a lot of success at Watkins Glen,'' he said.

Indeed. He will try for his fifth win in six years on the picturesque track in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

But failure wouldn't leave him with a feeling of despair.

``I know this team is capable of putting a string of wins together, and a win at Watkins Glen could be the spark we need,'' he said.