Hamilton heads to Lonestar State riding tall in the Kodak saddle
Bobby Hamilton and the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Racing Team enter Sunday's Texas 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway riding tall in the saddle after last week's seventh-place finish at Darlington Raceway. Hamilton, a 41-year-old driver from Nashville, Tenn., started 17th in the rain-shortened race at Darlington. He battled the weather and competition before rain finally halted the event after 164 of the scheduled 293 laps. Scoring his best finish of the season in the Morgan-McClure Motorsports Monte Carlo, Hamilton jumped to 13th in the series standings and is only 11 points out of the No. 10 spot. "We should have been better everywhere this year," Hamilton said. "We should have had top 10s in every race." No team has managed to do that in the first five races. Points leader Jeff Burton has two wins and two fourth-place finishes, and runner-up Jeff Gordon has two victories and two third-place runs. But one bad finish brings Burton's average finish down to 9.0, while a bad finish puts Gordon's average finish at 9.4 after the first five events. Hamilton's average finish is 16.2. "You've got to be consistent and that's what every team out here is looking for," Hamilton said. "It's tough to do every week, but that's what you've got to try to do and we're getting there. It's not something you can do overnight. "Gary DeHart first joined our team as a consultant last year at Texas. He's helped us a lot the past year, and we're getting used to his cars. As the season goes along, I think we'll just keep getting better with them." DeHart gave up his consulting role with the Morgan-McClure team after the 1999 Daytona 500 and took over as Race Team Coordinator and acting crew chief at Rockingham. With two top-10 finishes and a 12th place in three of the last four events, Hamilton says he sees light at the end of the straightaways. "We had a real good car at Darlington, and I think if we'd had a little more time we could have been up there with the leaders," he said. "We had a little bit of an aerodynamic push, and we were going to adjust that on the next pit stop. We knew what to do to fix it. "We didn't have to turn a wedge bolt all weekend long at Darlington. We had a good test there, and the car was good right off the truck. I know we'll be good at Texas, too. Hopefully, we'll be able to do more racing there this time around. From what I've heard, the track is in much better shape." Once again qualifying will be very important. Starting 17th last week at Darlington, Hamilton wasted little time coming to the front. It was his best qualifying effort since a 16th-place start at Rockingham. "It definitely helps starting up front," Hamilton said. "If nothing else, it gives the team a boost. Our guys have been working hard, and they really deserve a pat on the back after last week. "I went up to the shop and and worked with the pit crew two days before we went to Darlington. I think it might have showed them I was definitely interested in what they're doing. Two times we went in the pits and came out the same place we were running. That's the next best thing to gaining spots, and I'm real proud of them. "We've got some real good tracks coming up. I think we'll do well at Texas, and then I can't wait to get to Bristol and Martinsville. Bristol is in Morgan-McClure's backyard, so maybe we'll at least have the homefield advantage there, and I can't wait to get back to Martinsville. We won our first race together there last year, and it's always fun going back to a place where you've won. "It's always tough to win, but we're going to win some races this year. We want to keep moving up in the standings and winning races is one way to guarantee you'll do that. Texas would be a great place to start."