Mike Skinner and Dale Earnhardt, teammates with the powerhouse
Richard Childress Racing team, both needed good results at the Brickyard 400 for very
The team had gone through a high-profile crew change earlier
this season, with Larry McReynolds moving from Earnhardt's black No. 3 Chevrolet to the
No. 31, and Kevin Hamlin leaving Skinner for a spot with the seven-time champion.
Team owner Richard Childress and all parties involved
acknowledged that the change needed to be made because neither car was performing to
expectations. Serious accidents had injured both drivers and torn up a lot of good
Since winning the season opening Daytona 500, Earnhardt's only
other top-five finish had been a fourth at Martinsville. Frankly, he hadn't been
especially competitive in most of the races this year, at least not by his own lofty
standards. Coming home fifth in the Brickyard 400 was at least a step in the right
Skinner, meanwhile, made no bones about what finishing fourth meant to him.
"Maybe I can keep my job now," he said after his second top five in the
last three races. "That would be cool."
Yes, it was a big day for the RCR team: Skinner had the best finish of him
still-young Winston Cup career, and both drivers will be eligible to win $1 million in
Winston No Bull 5 bonus money if one of them can win the Pepsi Southern 500 at Darlington
on Labor Day weekend.
Both Childress cars were strong from the start. Skinner moved from his
starting spot of 16th to ninth by lap 20, while Earnhardt climbed from 28th to 19th by the
The black No. 3 would make another big move when the leaders pitted on lap 39
during a caution period for Jeremy Mayfield's accident. Most of the cars took four
tires, but Earnhardt took just two and in the process moved from 13th to fifth.
He would stay in the top 10 most of the rest of the day and used the two-tire
strategy again when he pitted following Kenny Irwin's crash - a lap-117 accident that
occurred when Earnhardt took air off the rear of Irwin's spoiler and the rookie lost it in
During the subsequent caution, Earnhardt and Skinner - who also took just two tires
- emerged from the pits 1-2. But Jeff Gordon got by Skinner on lap 124 and passed
Earnhardt three circuits later, as the Childress cars both began to fade a little.
Earnhardt's engine apparently lost power toward the end of the race, allowing
Skinner to get by for fourth, a position he held through a spate of late-race cautions.
"We were in the hunt all day, we just didn't have quite as much as that Gordon
car did," Earnhardt said. "I had a good race car all day, the guys kept
working on it and getting it better."
"I got to thank Richard Childress and congratulate Larry and all the 31 team.
Both teams seem to have come around quite well, finishing fourth and fifth.
"It was a good race for us. We just kept battling for position. We
got two tires alot and kept getting track position. That's what it's all about, just
track position and trying to keep up."
Earnhardt said he wasn't exactly sure where the car was losing time.
"We kept tuning and it seemed to be off through the corners," he said.
"I think we broke a valve spring there close to the the end. It just
started fluttering a bit and didn't have the zoom it had before."
If Earnhardt was pleased with fifth, Skinner was even happier with fourth. He
had lost his primary car a week earlier at Pocono and for the second year in a row was
forced to run his backup car in the Brickyard.
"He worked with me, helped me out," Skinner said of his teammate.
"The No. 36 got a little rough with me, but we got by. I knew I was a little
bit better than Dale. We were running him down. I said, 'Remember
Daytona? Come on now, give me a little help here. I need the points now and I
need a good run.' I am trying to get keep my job from being on the line and days
like today with this whole team effort will do it."
Car owner Richard Childress was also was impressed with the results.
"They both did a hell of a job today," Childress said. "Mike
Skinner is healthy and you can see the results. We've got everybody matched up and
things are working good. We're real happy for both teams."
And a team spokesman said after the race that Childress has an option to retain
Skinner for the 1999 season and intends to exercise it.