reflects on crew chief change
Shawn A. Akers
Brooklyn, Michigan (June 10, 1998)
It was one of the most difficult decisions
Richard Childress has ever had to make in his career as a NASCAR Winston Cup race car
But then Childress has never been willing to compromise on perfection, and he's determined
to do whatever it takes to get his race teams up toward the top of the NASCAR Winston Cup
If that meant switching the teams' crew chiefs, then so be it.
Childress did just that on Monday, making Kevin Hamlin the crew chief of the No. 3 GM
Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet, driven by Dale Earnhardt, and putting Larry McReynolds,
the former crew chief of the 3 car, in Hamlin's old position as crew chief of the No. 31
Lowe's Home Improvement Chevrolet, driven by Mike Skinner.
Earnhardt has won a race this year (the season-opening Daytona 500), but his season has
taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks, and he's dropped to 12th in the points.
Earnhardt hasn't had a top-10 since the California 500 in early May.
The team's qualifying efforts have also been sub-par, another thing that has
Skinner missed three races due to an injury suffered at Texas in April, but the No.
31 Lowe's team's performances haven't been much to write home about lately, either. Since
his return, Skinner has finished 29th at Charlotte, 27th at Dover and 30th at Richmond.
"We haven't had the season with either car that we wanted," Childress
said. "Winning the Daytona 500 was a great highlight. The 3 car with Dale and Larry
last year, we were really getting it together. The last eight races, I think we had two or
three seconds and could have won two or three races. We were real competitive.
"Skinner began to get his act together, and they won a race in Japan. I felt
everything started out pretty good. Then as the season progressed ... it just wasn't
working. We tried a brand new car, tried different bodies, we tried so many different
angles to try and come up with the right combination."
Injuries to both Earnhardt and Skinner, Childress said, have been huge factors in
the team's lackluster performances in recent weeks.
"That's the biggest problem we've faced this year," Childress said.
"Mike Skinner took two of the most violent blows I've ever seen a driver take and
still be walking. He's got to have operations this winter to get back in shape. Dale
Earnhardt told me Sunday morning after the race Saturday night how bad his chest hurt him
in the race and it was still bothering him then. We're dealing with two drivers that have
been beat up tremendously."
Childress said he had talked with both McReynolds and Hamlin, as well as team
managers Bobby Hutchens and David Smith, prior to the races at Charlotte last month and
told them of his plans should the situation not get any better. Childress said all parties
agreed something had to be done.
He informed McReynolds of the switch last Sunday morning on his way back from
Richmond, where Earnhardt finished 21st in the Pontiac Excitement 400.
Childress said the transition should be especially beneficial for Skinner, who's
personality mirrors McReynolds' more than it does Hamlin's.
"Mike Skinner is a very aggressive race driver, and he needs somebody that can
get hold of it," Childress said. "Kevin Hamlin is more laid back. "After
working with Dale all these years and with the Kirk Shelmerdines and the Andy Petrees, I
think Kevin's personality might fit a little better," Childress said.
"With Dale and Larry, it didn't come down to where one of them said, 'hey, I'm
going to do this or that. They both have a tremendous amount of respect for each other.
They're still friends. There's no hard feelings at all. Maybe somebody may have it toward
me for doing this, but nobody has said anything, anyway."
Childress said he still believes both of his teams can win and be highly-successful
in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Both teams will get their first taste of what the new
combination can do this weekend at the two-mile Michigan International Speedway in the
Miller Lite 400.