has calming influence
His techincal skills have helped
Earnhardt this season
By Mike Mulhern, Journal Reporter
|Kevin Hamlin (left), Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress
celebrate their victory in the 1999 DieHard 500 at Talladega.
Watkins Geln, N.Y. (Aug. 12,
If NASCAR had an award for most laid-back crew
chief, Kevin Hamlin would win it hands down.
Not since Kirk Shelmerdine ran things at Richard Childress'
shop has there been someone as unflappable as Hamlin. Dale Earnhardt, his driver,
certainly seems to like Hamlin's style. And Hamlin's technical skills seem pretty solid.
So after a rough couple of seasons, Earnhardt seems once
again comfortable with things. Hamlin has been giving him a top-eight car the past few
months, one of the top two Chevrolets -- a model which is at an aerodynamic disadvantage
to Pontiacs and Fords. Over the next few weeks, they'd like to step it up a little.
And next year? Well, Earnhardt is even talking championship
Hamlin doesn't think that is out of the question,
particularly with the aerodynamic changes coming for all three makes for the 2000 Winston
''You can do all the ifs and whats and buts you want, but if
you look back at the beginning of the year, at Atlanta and Rockingham, and if we had just
a handful of those points back, we'd be up there closer, to battle with the cars for
second place at least,'' Hamlin said. ''Dale Jarrett, though, does have a pretty
commanding jump on everybody.
''There is certainly a good amount of luck in this deal. Jeff
Gordon hasn't been as lucky as he has in the past. Performance-wise, the Monte Carlo is
hurting, to be quite truthful. And hitting that tire at Indy, well, that was as much my
fault as Dale's because I'm supposed to help talk him out of the pits.
''When I saw Jeff Burton's crew jump over to do left side
tires, I figured they were changing four tires and there'd be no problem getting out
around him. I turned around to try to guide Dale out of the pits, and I had no idea Burton
wouldn't be in his pit anymore and that there'd be two tires sitting out there in front of
us. Hitting that tire cost us some performance, probably at least four spots.''
''We've built a brand new car for this track, with
aerodynamics and less weight, to get it down a bit lower. We're hoping it will be a good
piece. Mike Skinner took two cars here, and this was one of them. It seemed like it was
pretty decent, but he got off the concrete and tore it up a little bit. We're hopeful we
got it back good.
''We're fortunate that Mike got to test, and he could relate
some information to us about the concrete and asphalt. He had some positive things to say
about it. It wasn't all negative. But if they'd put more concrete down, to where you could
get two cars side by side on the concrete it could be a whole lot better race.''
HAMLIN HAS BEEN on the job with Earnhardt just over a
year and has gained Earnhardt's confidence, which is not easy to do.
''We're supposed to teach each other things,'' Hamlin said.
''It's a two-part deal. He comes in and tells me things about the superspeedways that I've
never heard other drivers tell me. I've always wondered about this or that, and had my own
''We went to Daytona this year and tested and I won't tell
you exactly what he said, but when I heard him say that, I went 'Wow! That's what I've
always thought, but no driver has gotten out of that car and told me that. Dang! That's
''At Indianapolis Dale got out of the car Friday afternoon
and said 'We're close, but I think the car is going to go to the tight side.' So we kicked
a few things around, and I said 'OK, I've got something of a plan, and I'll sleep on it,
and we'll get together in the morning.'
''And then he gets in that IROC car, and it handles terrible,
it's so loose. And I don't get a chance to talk with Dale again that day, so I'm kind of
panicked, because we don't want to get our car to where it's driving that bad.
''There is a real fine line between being too tight and being
too free. And the line keeps shrinking. It's about as thin as piece of fishing line right
now. You get on either side of that deal, and it'll cost you time. It's just a matter of
which side costs you more time. And each track has its little quirks like that.
''But we are starting to understand that a little better. If
you give it time, it will get better.''
These next two races could be telling. Earnhardt's
road-course work is sometimes great, sometimes mediocre, usually unpredictable. And
Michigan, next week's stop, is typically one of his toughest tracks. If the team can get
through these two, they'll head to some of Earnhardt's best tracks.
And then there is the burnout factor. At this point of the
season more than six months into the tour, with more than three months still to run, crews
are facing a run of 12 races in a row.
''What people don't realize is it's not just this 12-week
stretch, it all starts back at Daytona,'' Hamlin said. ''You do get a day off here and a
day off there, maybe a weekend off. But even when we have weekends off, we sometimes have
to spend 'em working.
''Still, this 12-week thing, if things go your way and you
don't tear things up, I don't think it's really as bad as what some people make it out to
At least not when things are getting steadily better, as
Hamlin and Earnhardt both see.
BUT THERE IS more on their plate this month than the
Winston Cup races. Hamlin is also deep into work on the new Monte Carlo, with Daytona
testing probably only a few weeks away and a major test at Gateway in St. Louis looming.
''We're hoping the new Monte Carlo will be real
competitive,'' Hamlin said. ''When we started this program last year with the Monte Carlo,
we thought we were going to be able to race it this year, in May at Charlotte. So we did a
test the end of last year at Homestead, and played around with a lot of different things,
and it seemed like it was going to be a really good car.
''Of course, we didn't get to test it in traffic, and traffic
is the tell-tale of everything. When you get it around other cars, that's when we'll
really know what we have, and we haven't done that yet.
''And then NASCAR has sort of twisted the thing around a
little and actually hurt the car some (with new templates), so we're not quite sure what
we have anymore.''