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Hamlin adjusts to Earnhardt's style
'99 News
John Sturbin - Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Team owner Richard Childress (center) ordered the controversial crew chief swap last season. AP

(April 29, 1999)
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.''