Hamilton, No. 4 Kodak Chevrolet could end drought at Martinsville It's been 52 races since Bobby Hamilton and the No. 4 Kodak MAX Chevrolet team have parked in victory lane, but that drought could end Sunday in the NAPA Autocare 500 NASCAR ...
Hamilton, No. 4 Kodak Chevrolet could end drought at Martinsville
It's been 52 races since Bobby Hamilton and the No. 4 Kodak MAX Chevrolet team have parked in victory lane, but that drought could end Sunday in the NAPA Autocare 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.
Hamilton's most recent victory came in just his eighth start with the Morgan-McClure Motorsports, Inc., team on April 17, 1998 at Martinsville. The 42-year-old Nashville, Tenn., native, started on the pole and led 378 of 500 laps en route to an amazing 6.376-second triumph over runner-up Ted Musgrave.
Only six cars finished on the lead lap, and Hamilton showed early he was the class of the field. He led the first 74 laps and went on to run out front most of the afternoon. When the dust finally settled, Hamilton had led 75.6 percent of the laps and scored his first NASCAR Winston Cup short track victory.
In 15 career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Hamilton has seven top-10 finishes. He ranks eighth in total money won at NASCAR's oldest sanctioned track and collected $227,025 after last year's win from the pole.
Hamilton and company may not race the same Chevy that won at Martinsville last year. A scheduled test session this week will determine if the No. 4 Kodak MAX team will run its New Hampshire Chevy or the one Hamilton won with 52 races ago at Martinsville.
"That car we won Martinsville with is five years old," Hamilton said. "Sterling Marlin had wrecked it, and it was sitting in a corner. They were going to make a show car out of it. It just happened to be the type chassis I'd been used to running, and the rest is history."
Hamilton hasn't won in '99, but the 1991 NASCAR Winston Cup rookie of the year said he had the car to beat last Sunday at Dover Downs International Speedway. He started 31st and went a lap down early, but Hamilton charged back to make up the lap and then moved all the way to fifth place before shredding a right-front tire and hitting the wall.
"I didn't want to burst anybody's bubble, but we would have won the race with all ease," Hamilton said. "I could run three tenths quicker than the leader when I wanted to. The car felt great in the corners, and we had plenty of power. But all we can do now is go to Martinsville and hope for some better luck."
Hamilton and company haven't had much luck since winning at Martinsville last season. In fact, in the other two events since then at the .526-mile track, Hamilton hasn't been able to buy a break.
"We should have won the last two races at Martinsville," Hamilton said. "We were passing Ricky Rudd for the lead in the fall race last year. A caution came out, and we came out of the pits seventh and got wrecked and put in the wall.
"We came from seventh or eighth in the spring race this year, and a lapped car cuts up into us and blows out a left front tire. I'm not disappointed about anything. I think we should have won both races there since we last won there.
"You've got to keep tires on the car and you've got to keep brakes on the car at Martinsville. I'm not hard on either one. We've been run over the last two races there, so I guess you need a little luck on your side, too."
Despite his 30th-place finish at Dover last Sunday, Hamilton retained 14th-place in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings. He trails 12th-place Jeremy Mayfield by 82 points and is 252 points out of 10th position with seven races remaining.
With victories in three of the final seven tracks on the schedule, Hamilton would like nothing better than to close out the season with a rash of checkered flags.
"We've been good enough to win again at Martinsville since we won there," Hamilton said. "The only difference is we started on the pole that time we won there. We haven't been on the pole the two times since, and it's made us look less dominant.
"In the fall race last year, we had a plug wire come off on the second lap. We went to 43rd and drove back up there and were passing Rudd for the lead when the last caution flag fell. How much more dominant can you get than that at Martinsville?
"I'm cruising along, taking care of everything. It was like taking candy from a baby again, but I had to come back from 43rd. We got spun out, and Rudd won the race. The second-best car won as far as I'm concerned."
There hasn't been a repeat winner in the last 11 short track events, and Hamilton also would like to end that streak on Sunday.
"Short-track racing isn't a big priority for most teams until they start running for the championship," Hamilton said. "Then, it becomes a big priority. If you look at the stats at the short tracks for Bobby Labonte lately, I think he's finished in the top five at about every short track. He used to not even finish in the top 20 at the short tracks. I think everybody has just been stepping up their programs.
"Joe Nemechek won at New Hampshire, and he'd never won a race. We haven't won this year, but we've got seven left, and I could win three in a row. Who knows? I don't think we're any better than we were at the first of the season, but I know we're more organized, and that means a lot."