Bobby Hamilton, driver of the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Chevrolet Monte Carlo, realizes there's little room for error at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The historic 2.5-mile track, site of the sixth annual Brickyard 400 on Aug. 7,...
Bobby Hamilton, driver of the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Chevrolet Monte Carlo, realizes there's little room for error at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The historic 2.5-mile track, site of the sixth annual Brickyard 400 on Aug. 7, requires a perfect setup to run up front, and that's what Hamilton and the No. 4 Morgan-McClure Motorsports Team plan to carry to the Brickyard. One of NASCAR's most lucrative races will get the green flag at 12:15 p.m. on Aug. 7, and the driver who's leading the way after 160 laps will pocket a nice chunk of change. Hamilton understands what it takes to run up front at Indy and knows he could be in store for a long afternoon if the car isn't almost perfect. "You're on your own in races like that," Hamilton said. "You're either on or off. If you're on, you're on. If you're the least bit off, you're off. There's no big off or little off. You're just off, and they'll run away and hide from you if you're off. "I feel like we had a real good test, a lot better than we had there last year. I really feel like the car we're carrying will be good, but how good depends on how good some of those other guys are." Defending Brickyard 400 champion Jeff Gordon is the only driver to take the checkered flag in a NASCAR race at Indy twice. The former Hoosier won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 and again last season. Hamilton, a 42-year-old driver from Nashville, Tenn., has recorded career victories at Phoenix, Martinsville and Rockingham and is generally regarded as a flat-track specialist. Hamilton doesn't always agree with that label but says it doesn't apply at Indy. "I'm good at the flat tracks that are slick," Hamilton said. "Indy isn't slick. It's got a lot of grip. That's why it's so fast. It's just different than anywhere else we go. We only go to one track a year like that, and it's there. "I just want to run fast, and I think we will. It feels good to know you can run 30th at Indy and make more money than you could win by winning at a lot of other tracks. You look at it like that, and it's a pretty cool deal.
"Daytona is more important to me because of the race team I'm with, but if we were to win Indy, I'm sure that would make them pretty happy, too. If I could win Indy, I'm not sure what I'd do to celebrate. It'd probably take a couple of days to sink in, but I'd sure like to win it and see what I'd do." Hamilton's No. 4 Kodak Chevy was 20th fastest in the recent General Motors test session at Indy, but rain kept the Morgan-McClure Team from making a qualifying run late in the second day of testing. "We could have been in the top 10 at the GM test pretty easy," Hamilton said. "That rain just kept us off the track when we were getting ready to do our banzai run. And you have to throw away what the Fords did there because the weather was way different when we tested. It was 95 or 98 degrees when we tested. It doesn't matter how hot it is when we go back for the race because it'll be the same for everybody." Hamilton started 24th and finished 20th last season in his first outing at Indy behind the wheel of the No. 4 Kodak MAX Chevrolet. He won almost $96,000 for a 20th-place finish. The winner pulled in $637,625, and the last place driver won $67,630. A good run at Indy might not make or break your season, but it sure could go a long way toward paying the bills for the remaining 14 events. It also could provide some momentum for the stretch run. Hamilton is currently 14th in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings, but he's only 10 points out of 13th and 142 out of 10th place. Hamilton finished 10th in the final 1998 Winston Cup standings and plans to improve on that showing for Morgan-McClure Motorsports in '99. "We've got plenty of time left to climb the ladder in the standings," Hamilton said. "You want to get all you can get. If you can finish fifth, then you try to climb to fifth, but you're not going to climb anywhere if you're not running good. "We've got a good package and you need the total package at Indy. We ran terrible there last year. We couldn't run a lick on new tires. Fifteen laps left in a gas run, we were pretty fast. We had passed a bunch of cars. We had been 38th or 40th, and we drove up to about 20th. "We came out of the pits 18th or 20th, and we'd go all the way back and ride until about 15 laps left in the gas run and then we'd get going. At that time, our shocks and springs were way off. We weren't prepared for that kind of race for that type of race track. "We'll be better this year. When I started driving the 43 car, we went up there and I'd never tested or anything. We carried our Martinsville car up there and qualified on the outside pole and ran third and fourth all day long. We ran out of gas and I finished 11th.
"You've got to have a real good aerodynamic type car at Indy that doesn't have a lot of drag and has good downforce. That's tough to get. You've got to have a car that drives good, and you have to have a boatload of motor. "You just can't give up anything there. The least of our problems right now is motors. We've got some real good race cars right now, and we're going to go up there and try to win some of that big money they're paying."