Bobby Hamilton Martinsville Preview

Winning a NASCAR Winston Cup race at Martinsville Speedway is a very impressive accomplishment. Dominating an event at the picturesque .526-mile track in Southern Virginia is next to impossible, but that's just what Bobby ...

Winning a NASCAR Winston Cup race at Martinsville Speedway is a very impressive accomplishment. Dominating an event at the picturesque .526-mile track in Southern Virginia is next to impossible, but that's just what Bobby Hamilton accomplished last April. Hamilton, a 41-year-old Tennessee native, drove the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Chevrolet Monte Carlo into Martinsville's victory lane after leading 378 of 500 laps en route to an amazing 6.376-second victory over runner-up Ted Musgrave. Only six cars finished on the lead lap, but Hamilton showed early he was the class of the field. Starting on the pole, Hamilton led the first 74 laps and went on to run out front most of the afternoon. He led 75.6 percent of the laps in only his eighth start with the Morgan-McClure Motorsports team out of Abingdon, Va. In 14 career starts at Martinsville Speedway, Hamilton has recorded 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. But Hamilton says Martinsville wasn't always one of his best tracks. "That was the best car I'd ever had at Martinsville last year," Hamilton said. "Heck, I think that was the best car that anyone ever had at Martinsville. But I never ran good at Martinsville until I got with Richard Petty. They had good stuff for Martinsville, but no one ever had anything as good as I had there last year." Hamilton made it look easy, putting Martinsville pre-race favorites Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace zip codes behind at various stretches of the race. "When you're sitting inside it like I was, you're just sort of tooling along doing your own deal," Hamilton said. "I didn't realize the last part of the race how much we had stretched out over the 24 and some of them guys. "You've got to have a good car at Martinsville, and nobody is better than Rusty Wallace at that place. His car was off last spring, and he wasn't as good as we were. "I knew at the start of the race when I passed them guys on the outside that we had a horse. Most of the time when you have a car that will go good on the outside, it will go good in the corners. "I saved the car all day. I lost the rhythm when I got past John Andretti. I said I should have been pulling away from them and I wasn't. I caught myself driving a little hard because I looked at the scoreboard and didn't have a lot of laps left. I slowed down a little bit and got my rhythm back." Although Hamilton drove a smart race, he praised the Morgan-McClure Motorsports team after the victory. "The guys at the shop had to struggle the past year," Hamilton said. "We struggled at the start of this season. They built the Martinsville car from the ground up. A week and a half before the race, it was just a bare chassis. The guys at the engine shop worked real hard and got two real good torque motors. We qualified and got the pole. Larry (team owner McClure) said the race motor was better than the one we qualified with and it was. It was just one of those days where everybody put in 100 percent and it paid off." Now Hamilton would like to see all the hard work pay off again in Sunday's Goody's Body Pain 500 at Martinsville Speedway. After finishing 10th in the 1998 NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, Hamilton and company didn't start the 1999 campaign exactly like they had planned. NASCAR veteran Gary DeHart took over as Race Team Coordinator and acting crew chief after Daytona, and the team spent the early part of the season converting their Chevys to DeHart's chassis design. Pit crew problems plagued the Morgan-McClure team early in the season, but McClure went to work to correct that problem. "You can't keep putting your driver behind in the pits," McClure said. "Bobby has really carried the load this season, and we're going to start helping him instead of hurting him in the pits. By the time we get to Martinsville, we plan to have those problems solved. "Everyone has been working hard, and we can't wait to get back to Martinsville and try to win another one. That win last year really pumped everyone up, and that would sure be a great place to get our first one in '99." Hamilton has three career victories to his credit -- Phoenix, Rockingham and Martinsville. The Morgan-McClure team is noted for its superspeedway prowess, and Hamilton joked about that after last year's win at Martinsville. "Larry told me when he hired me in a laughing matter than if I'd win him a short track race, he'd promise me a superspeedway win. So, it's his turn now. A win is nice, and winning more than one is nice, but when you get that first one out of the way, it makes life a lot easier." Hamilton and the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Monte Carlo team are currently tied with Dale Earnhardt for 14th in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings. Once again, the goal is to be one of the top 10 teams on the circuit. A victory at Martinsville could propel the No. 4 Kodak Chevy to that ranking. "Rusty Wallace won at Bristol and went from 11th to seventh in the standings," Hamilton said. "We're only 79 points out of 10th-place right now, so there's no telling how far we could move up with a win at Martinsville. "It's still early in the season, and we've got a lot of racing left. We're going to test at Talladega on Tuesday and Wednesday to get ready for that race, and then we're going to start thinking about Martinsville. I can't wait to get back up there and hopefully have another run like we did last year."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Hamilton , Rusty Wallace , Ted Musgrave , Richard Petty