Skinner riding tall, pointing for first win By Dave Rodman WELCOME, N.C. (Feb. 23, 1999) Mike Skinner, the leader in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship chase after two events, might belittle his chances at the coveted title, but make no...
Skinner riding tall, pointing for first win By Dave Rodman
WELCOME, N.C. (Feb. 23, 1999) Mike Skinner, the leader in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship chase after two events, might belittle his chances at the coveted title, but make no mistake, the crown is within the reach of his No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet team -- as is the team's first win.
"I think this race team is up to the task of running for the points championship, but I don't know if the driver is," Skinner said good-naturedly, after letting the realization that he's atop the standings sink in for a day and a half. He has scored two top-six finishes and leads the standings by 29 points over former series champ Rusty Wallace.
Skinner's Richard Childress Racing team's goal has been to win a point race for two years. Each week could be "the one," but considering the team is carrying the car Skinner used to win his second straight NASCAR Thunder Special exhibition race in Japan last November, "the one" could come on March 7 in the Las Vegas 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"The car we are bringing to Las Vegas is my favorite car," Skinner said without hesitation. "It's the car we won Motegi (Japan) with and we scored my first top-five with it at Loudon last year."
Skinner said similarities between the 1.5-mile oval at Las Vegas and the Twin Ring Motegi facility in Motegi City, Japan, has him optimistic after a rare weekend off.
"We went to Rockingham with a goal of simply finishing on the lead lap with the fenders on it," Skinner said of his sixth-place finish in last weekend's Dura-Lube/Big Kmart 400. "Vegas is one of the places we've got high hopes for -- it's potentially one of our best race tracks. That car's been awfully good for me and Motegi has a lot of the same characteristics as Vegas.
Even though Skinner struggled to a 29th-place finish at Las Vegas last year in the series' inaugural event there, he is upbeat about the next trip.
"I think we can win our first race there," he said. "We lack a lot of seat time at a lot of places, where I struggle a little bit. That's a little bit of an advantage for Dale Earnhardt and (Dale) Jarrett and Mark (Martin) -- they have so much time there's no question that helps them adjust.
"Now, we're going to Las Vegas, where I ran well in the Craftsman Truck Series, and I think we can make something good happen."
Skinner said his maturation as a driver has transferred all the way down the line at Richard Childress Racing, and the payoff is in the points, literally.
"Unlike my rookie year, when I tore up everything I sat in, the guys are able to spend time tweaking on the cars now," Skinner said. "Instead of putting 'em back together they're bending the fenders a little or working with the cold air box to make the cars better.
"My biggest improvement is not trying to get more out of the car than what's there -- and being able to tell Larry (McReynolds, crew chief) what the car is doing and what it needs."
The switch of crew chiefs at midseason last year is one of the biggest reasons for the team's charge through the end of last year and into 1999, Skinner said.
"I think Kevin Hamlin and I had some good runs last year, but Kevin was more laid back and I think Dale (Earnhardt) needed that more," Skinner said of the switch. "I needed someone who was a dedicated racer&someone who could kick me in the butt when I needed it and pat me on the back when I needed that.
"I think Kevin was what Dale needed and Larry's sideline demeanor was what I needed."
So far, the RCR armada will certainly live with the results.
Source: NASCAR Online