Team owner Richard Childress (center) ordered the
controversial crew chief swap last season. AP
Kevin Hamlin's first career victory as Dale Earnhardt's
crew chief in Sunday's DieHard 500 is proof that there is more than one way to run a
NASCAR Winston Cup race shop.
Hamlin joined Earnhardt's crew in June in the celebrated
switch of crew chiefs that also sent Larry McReynolds ``down the hill'' at Richard
Childress Racing and over to Mike Skinner's team.
McReynolds was diplomatic about the demotion. But Larry Mac
didn't hide the fact that he and Earnhardt clashed over the seven-time champion's
reluctance to spend time at the shop during the week. McReynolds also suggested that
Earnhardt had gotten a little too comfortable with what had gotten him here, that he was
reluctant to try new ideas.
McReynolds couldn't deal with all of the above during a
tenure that produced Earnhardt's emotional first victory in the 1998 season-opening
Daytona 500. That was Earnhardt's only victory in the previous 100 races heading into the
Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where ``The Intimidator'' led his first laps of 1999 and
gave Hamlin a new profile.
``When it (the switch) all came about, it was like, `This
isn't what I want to do, Richard,' '' Hamlin said. ``I liked the low-profile thing being
with Mike Skinner and starting a team from nothing and working up. Hopefully, Mike and I
would get our first win together. That's how I always envisioned it, and I really wanted
it to happen.''
Skinner and Hamlin did win a NASCAR exhibition road race in
Japan in November 1997. But Sunday's restrictor-plate gem produced Earnhardt's 72nd career
victory and took the heat off the crew of his No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet.
``The media, people in the grandstands, everybody wants us to
be able to say: `What's wrong?' And there's not anything wrong,'' Hamlin said. ``Dale has
the same desire he's always had to drive and win races. The team is just as strong and
pumped up as its ever been. The competition level is just so great that one minor thing is
a major setback.''
And just for the record, how often does Dale Earnhardt
actually show up at RCR to lay hands on his race car?
``Dale comes to the shop maybe once a month, or more, if
needed,'' Hamlin said. ``To me, it's no big deal.''