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Earnhardt, Hamlin combination continues to gel
'99 News
Dave Rodman, NASCAR Online

Dale Earnhardt and Kevin Hamlin have proven they can be a winning combination.

Fontana, Cal. (April 29, 1999)
Crew chief Kevin Hamlin had very little to do with the whispers that supposedly heralded the impending -- alleged -- departure of Dale Earnhardt as a force to be reckoned with in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

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 concerned.

"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.