Bobby Hamilton Sears Point Preview

Hamilton preparing for another road course showdown out west Bobby Hamilton hopped in the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Monte Carlo and his luck changed in last year's Save Mart/Kragen 350 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Sears Point Raceway. ...

Hamilton preparing for another road course showdown out west

Bobby Hamilton hopped in the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Monte Carlo and his luck changed in last year's Save Mart/Kragen 350 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Sears Point Raceway. In six previous starts at the 10-turn, 1.949-mile road course, Hamilton had never scored a top-10 finish. He qualified sixth fastest in the No. 4 Kodak Chevrolet out of the Morgan-McClure Motorsports, Inc., stables and then ran with the leaders most of the day. Hamilton took the lead on lap 85 of the 112-lap event and appeared headed for his first road course victory ever on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit. Pole-sitter Jeff Gordon had other ideas and regained the lead from Hamilton on lap 102. The defending series champion held it the rest of the way and scored a 2.748-second victory over Hamilton. But the 42-year-old Tennessee native served noticed that the No. 4 Kodak Chevy had returned to battle for bragging rights on the road courses. "It's amazing what a good Chevrolet Monte Carlo will do for you," Hamilton said after his runner-up performance at Sears Point last season. "I don't have a clue what to do around these places, but the car drove flawlessly all day. "They made some good calls in the pits. The team did it all. I was just out there hanging on to it. I had it throwing gravel, throwing dirt, just whatever it took. What really made me feel good about it is that if we had had the same laps on the tires that Gordon did, we had a shot at it. Still, it was a good day. "I ran my tires in the ground. I think we had a few more laps on our tires than he did his. I knew the only chance we had was to run as hard as I could. I knew he would be a little better because he had a pretty good car all day. Once he got out there, I tried him a couple of times, but I couldn't get him. I had to start conserving fuel then." In his first season driving for the Morgan-McClure Motorsports team, Hamilton finished 10th in the final 1998 NASCAR Winston Cup standings. Fresh off a 10th-place run in last Sunday's Pocono 500, Hamilton and company are currently 15th in the series standings, 200 points behind 10th-place Terry Labonte. "We needed that top 10," Hamilton said. "That's the only way you're going to gain any ground on these guys. We had a great run at Pocono, and the guys were awesome in the pits. We just don't lose any positions on our pit stops anymore. My hat's off to the crew." NASCAR veteran Gary DeHart took over as Race Team Coordinator for the No. 4 team after the season-opener at Daytona, and Hamilton has been getting used to DeHart's chassis since then. The entire team is looking forward to this season's showdown at Sears Point. Once again, Hamilton realizes Gordon will be one of the favorites to win again in the California wine country. "I drove hard all day last year, and we really wanted to win the race, but you can race him (Gordon) clean," Hamilton said. "You don't have to worry about anything. We touched accidentally, but you don't have to worry about him retaliating. He knows what good, hard racing is. "We tried and came up a little short. Those guys are champions, and we're trying to learn how to be. I had a blast out there. It's a lot easier and a lot more fun when you've got good race cars. "It seemed like we were the best car through the esses. We've got them figured out. Now we've got to get the rest of the 25 turns figured out. If we had done what everybody else did (on pit stops) we wouldn't have finished second. We almost had a winning car. I'm real proud of what this team did. "Goodyear had a good tire. It would run forever. It just got slick. We dodged a couple of bullets. Cars spun in front of us. The 30 car spun in front of us, and I hit him head on but it didn't hurt the car that much. "I knew it was going to be between me and the 24. I knew that before he got past the 43 car (John Andretti). He's got such a good race car and such a good rhythm at these places. I'm a bonehead when it comes to road racing. I'm used to turning left. I knew he had the upper hand, but I wasn't going to give it to him. "I'm a better (road racer) now. I'm as good as a bunch of these guys. I've got a car that I can feel up under me. I feel like I can do some good training now. When we unloaded the car and I was eighth on the chart, that was like winning the race for me." The Morgan-McClure team won at Sears Point with driver Ernie Irvan in 1992. Irvan, along with Rusty Wallace, are the only two drivers who have ever won two races at Sears Point, and no one has ever won back-to-back. Hamilton would like to become the ninth different driver to win a Winston Cup race at Sears Point. He came real close in 1998, closer than he ever has in his career. "Improving one position shouldn't be that tough, but when that spot is from second to first, well, that's easier said than done," Hamilton said. "That doesn't mean we can't do it. That's our west coast mission in '99. Being the last driver to win a race at Sears Point in the '90s would really be something special."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers John Andretti , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Hamilton , Ernie Irvan , Terry Labonte , Rusty Wallace