Unhappy with his teams' performances over the first third
of the 1998 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season, car owner Richard Childress knew it was time
for a change. Following an emotional victory in the Daytona 500, his prime time driver --
Dale Earnhardt -- sunk to 12th in the points standings over the next three months.
"We have to do something," Childress said at the time. "Both programs
are struggling and we're not accomplishing anything by running for 20th position. Our
sponsors deserve a better performance that what we're giving them."
In the wake of an uncharacteristic slump, Childress opted to swap crew chiefs between
the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus team and the No. 31 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse
team, sending Larry McReynolds to Skinner and Hamlin to Earnhardt. Suddenly, the spotlight
glared on Hamlin at every turn.
"It was kind of awkward at first," admits Hamlin. "With Skinner they
really didn't expect us to be in contention every week, so nobody really paid us much
attention. We just went about our business. With Dale it is expected not only to be in
contention, but be in the winner's circle. If you're not winning they want to know why. If
you are winning they want to know what took you so long."
This weekend at Michigan, the Hamlin-Earnhardt marriage will celebrate it's one year
anniversary. The season started out well again for Earnhardt, as he nearly won
back-to-back Daytona 500s, giving Jeff Gordon all he could handle over the final two laps.
After a brief dip in performance, the No. 3 team is right back where it needs to be,
having catapulted 13 positions up the points chart and into seventh place over the past
During that span, Earnhardt has recorded three top-10s including a dominant victory in
the DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Following that race, Earnhardt knew the
chemistry between himself and Andrews was extraordinary.
"Kevin is a good guy," remarked Earnhardt after winning Talladega last month.
"He sort of thinks like I do and he's always got something in his mind. Nine times
out of 10 I tell him what I think and he's thinking the same thing. Kevin doesn't say much
until he has thought it through, I like that because he is looking for one of two answers
and usually it's the one I give him."
Although the shy Hamlin was somewhat forced into the limelight, he has accepted the
challenge well, and has intentions of continuing the good fortune he has helped bring to
the No. 3 team.
"Honestly, to be crew chief for Dale Earnhardt and this team I feel like I'm the
luckiest crew chief in the garage area," said Hamlin. "I didn't necessarily
volunteer for the position, but after being here, it's a fun position to be in. Dale and I
seem to have a good relationship, and I think we're going to build it into something
bigger and better, and hopefully get Dale that eighth championship."