But after the duo's initial victory together last Sunday in
the DieHard 500, Hamlin may have a lot to say about whether Earnhardt, Richard Childress
Racing and the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet contend for Earnhardt's eighth NWC
championship this season.
They are charging into California Speedway for Sunday's California 500 presented by
NAPA -- not thinking that they have won only twice in 101 races -- but that they are
coming off a BIG victory, and it may not be the last.
"To be a crew chief for Dale Earnhardt -- I'm the luckiest crew chief in the
garage area," said Hamlin, who can be low-key to a fault in public, but who's a
dynamo with a wrench in his hand. His reaction to the media attention he received after he
scored his first NASCAR Winston Cup victory was apparent.
"When I got put in this position, it isn't a position I necessarily wanted to be
in for this reason right here -- the press and media," Hamlin said, smiling at the
same time. "I'm more low profile. I enjoyed being with (RCR teammate Mike) Skinner
and doing that thing, starting that team up."
Mid-way through last season, team owner Childress swapped his crew chiefs, putting the
talented but admittedly low-key Hamlin with Earnhardt and veteran Larry McReynolds with
sophomore Skinner. After Sunday's result, it's totally apparent it's paid off for all
"After being put in this position, it's a fun position to be in," Hamlin
said. "There's nothing wrong doing what we're doing, going out here and getting this
team turned back around and winning another championship. It's going to be a great thing
when we win that eighth championship. I'm going to be one of the happiest people on earth.
"Dale and I seem to have a good relationship, and I think we're going to build it
into something bigger and better."
That suits Earnhardt just fine, as he takes a new car prepared by his newly revitalized
crew chief to the California Speedway.
"Kevin is more like Kirk Shelmerdine in his personality," he said, referring
to the crew chief with which he won four of his seven titles. "He sort of thinks like
I do and he's always got something in his mind. Nine times out of 10 when I tell him what
I think, it's basically what he's thinking.
"After Martinsville, we both looked at each other and knew what we needed. We knew
we needed to build a new car and make it the best we can."
And that's what the team has done. But all along the way, Earnhardt has had to deal
with the doubters, the doom-and-gloomers -- the talk of him being (gasp) a has-been.
"It's not been tough on me (not winning)," he said. "It's tougher on you
guys keeping the stats and asking the questions. We just race from week to week and try to
win the next week. We don't walk around and look at each other and say it's been a week
since we won -- it's been 100 weeks since you won.
"I'm not making fun at you guys about that. It's just that we don't sit and ponder
on 'it's been a long time since you won.' We know that. We talk about it. We race to try
to fix that the next race. We understand the competition level. I think Richard and myself
and Kevin and the team are trying to come up with better equipment and better plans,
whether it be testing or things like that.
"We've got some good race cars coming out now. We've got a brand new car going to
California. If it doesn't run good out there, it's going to be the driver's fault."
With a revitalized Earnhardt at the controls, don't bet on it.