BOBBY HAMILTON (No. 4 Kodak MAX film Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Hamilton scored a season-best finish of seventh last Sunday in the Mall.com 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Darlington Raceway and jumped eight spots in the Winston Cup standings...
BOBBY HAMILTON (No. 4 Kodak MAX film Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
NOTE: Hamilton scored a season-best finish of seventh last Sunday in the Mall.com 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Darlington Raceway and jumped eight spots in the Winston Cup standings to 28th. It was Hamilton's third straight seventh-place finish at Darlington. The Morgan-McClure Motorsports team tested recently at Bristol Motor Speedway and unofficially broke Rusty Wallace's qualifying record of 15.333 seconds. Hamilton was clocked at 15.05 seconds in the same Monte Carlo he raced at Darlington. Hamilton will pilot the same car on Sunday at Bristol, and the 42-year-old Nashville, Tenn., native says the track record will tumble in Bud Pole qualifying on Friday at the .533-mile high-banked oval.
"The track record will fall, and it could take a former track record lap just to make the race," Hamilton said. "When we ran the 15.05 lap, the track was perfect. That was on the first day of our two-day test. I think we ran a 15.12 the second day, and we ran a lot of laps in the teens. We've got a new tire for Bristol, and that's part of the reason why we're going so fast, but the cars are good, and I think downforce plays a big role in it, too. People say they've seen Dale Earnhardt leading the race at Bristol with the front end off the car. Well, they did, but they haven't seen him do that long. When the tires wear out, aerodynamics come into play -- even at Bristol. We tested with a practice motor, and we'll bring back a better motor, but sometimes too much motor can hurt you at Bristol. I think the new tire is worth something, but really it's like everywhere else. Technology prevails.
"Some people are saying it'll take a lap faster than 15 seconds to win the pole, but I don't think that will happen. The blacker the track got during our test, the slower it got. The Busch cars will practice a couple of hours, and the Winston Cup cars will practice a couple of hours before we qualify. How many laps will that be on the track? With all those cars there, I'm sure they're going to put down a lot of rubber, and I think the track will be slower when it comes time to qualify. When we ran the 15.05-second lap, the track was perfect. The more rubber that gets put down, the slower it's going to be, but it's still going to be plenty fast.
"When we ran that fast lap, naturally we were in qualifying trim, but we ran a lot of laps in the teens when we weren't in full blown qualifying trim. We used a test motor, but sometimes a motor doesn't mean a lot at Bristol.
"I take the same line at Bristol that most other drivers do. There's not too much you can do different, but I think Rusty Wallace and I might drive the track a little different than the other guys. I don't think many people run it like we do. I'm not going to give away any secrets, but I usually run the race the same way I make a lap in qualifying. I know Rusty will be hard to beat at Bristol. He always is, but we've got a good car and maybe we'll be able to give him a run for his money.
"We tested there last year and ran a 15.22 lap in practice. We went back and qualified seventh. That's when Rusty set the track record. He started on the pole and won the race. We had some problems and finished 18th. You've got to stay out of trouble at Bristol, but that's easier said than done. It's kind of like Sterling Marlin told Tony Glover when he heard we tested there at 15.05. Sterling told Glover that was so fast it wouldn't give you time to catch the slobber coming out of your mouth.
"That's pretty fast, but I don't think the race pace will be faster."
"In fact, I think the race speeds will be about identical. The tire is faster, but it loses its grip faster than the tire we had there before. You can run it hard for 8-10 laps, and then you'll go back to identical speeds. That's still pretty fast. When something happens in front of you, it's hard to miss. We qualified bad at Bristol last August, and Dale Jarrett spun out and we didn't have anywhere to go. You know how wide the track is. If one car gets sideways, it takes up just about the whole race track. I like racing at Bristol, but I like racing just about anywhere right now.
"This car is going to be good. We built this Monte Carlo as an R&D car, and it was sort of an accident that we tested it at Bristol. It's sort of a home breed car. Gary Grossenbacher (a Morgan-McClure engineer) oversaw it from ground up. We just tested it at Bristol because we didn't have anything else to carry. We were waiting on our car to get back from Las Vegas. That's the car we thought we were going to run at Bristol. We tested the new car the first day, and by the time the Vegas car got there the second day, it wasn't even close to our new Monte Carlo. When we got the rule change for Atlanta, we got kind of behind, so we just decided to carry the new car and race it at Darlington. It came out of there without a mark on it, so it's good to go for this week.
"People don't usually carry their best stuff to Bristol because they know there's a good chance it won't come out of there in one piece. Everything we've built this year is in pretty good shape. We've pretty much changed all our stuff around and it's identical right now. We had a good run at Darlington. I think our car was better than a seventh-place car. It started cooling off and they didn't realize how tight the car was getting. We just made a mistake with the adjustment we made. We probably had a third or fourth-place car, but it just got too tight at the end.
"We didn't qualify great at Darlington, but the team made a great call staying out under caution to get us up front. We only had two laps on our tires and we'd already used two or three sets of tires. If we'd kept going like that, we would have run out. It was a big decision to stay out, but I didn't have a problem with it at all. I knew the car was going to be good. I knew it was good after Happy Hour on Saturday, but I didn't say too much about it. We were only 25th quickest, but we never really tried to run a quick lap. We were just trying to take care of the tires. You've got to do that at Darlington, and you've got to do that at Bristol as well.
"I think if we can qualify well at Bristol, we'll have a good shot at winning. I want one of those trophies. Have you ever seen one of those things. They're so big, it'd take a wrecker to move it. I don't know if I'd even have a place to put it or not, but if I win the race, I might just bolt it on top of my truck and run around town with it for a week or two.
"We're capable of winning a race. The team has been on all season. We've had a couple of parts failures, but we've only had one bad race and that was Las Vegas. Imagine where we'd be in the standings if we hadn't broken at Daytona and Rockingham. We finished last at Daytona, and I think we had a top 10 car. We finished 40th at Rockingham and had a car that should have easily won the race. I figured if we'd finished just 13th at Daytona and fifth at Rockingham, we'd be sixth or seventh in points right now instead of 28th. Our pit stops have been good, and the cars are driving good. They've made some good calls in the pits, and everybody is working hard."
"I'd really like to win a race at Bristol. It's Morgan-McClure's home track, and it's in my home state. I'd like to win anywhere, but you'd probably never guess where I'd like to win most. Everybody says wouldn't you rather have won the Daytona 500 instead of Martinsville. Well, no. Every race pays the same Winston Cup points, and if we were just in it for the money, it wouldn't be any fun, anyway. I'm looking at the big picture. I just want to win, but I'd really like to win most on a road course. I really can't explain why other than I never thought I was worth a crap as a road racer, and now I think I'm pretty good at it. Don't get me wrong. I'd like to win Daytona or Indy, but I think winning on a road course would mean more to me. We finished 11th at Sears Point last year, but we know what we did wrong. The year before that, we finished second to Jeff Gordon. I'd really like to win at Sears Point because they say that's tougher than Watkins Glen.
"Right now, we're just thinking about the next race and that's Bristol. We'll need a little luck on our side, everybody does at Bristol. Qualifying will be important. We don't want to end up pitting on the backstretch, so qualifying is our first priority right now. After that, we'll get ready to race."
LARRY McCLURE (Car owner No. 4 Kodak MAX film Monte Carlo)
"We've got a good car for Bristol. I don't know if there's any mystique with the car or not. It's similar to the car we ran last year at Darlington. We're learning more about Bobby's wants and needs with the cars, and we're trying to cater to that. We built this Monte Carlo as an R&D car. It's sort of a new millennium chassis. We took it to Bristol to test and it was really fast. Bobby said it felt good, and it had a lot of forward bite.
"Darlington was a critical track for us. We were so far down in the points, we knew we might not be eligible for another provisional, so we took our best stuff to Darlington. We practiced pretty good, but we didn't pick up in qualifying. We just decided to get it ready for the race. The guys did a great job with it and it paid off in the race. Billy Brownlow and Gary Grossenbacher put in a lot of time on this car. It's the first one we've built at our shop. We'd been using Gary DeHart's and Mike Laughlin's chassis, but I think we've hit on something and it's going to have an impact.
"I know we finished seventh in both races at Darlington last year, and we didn't improve on that last week. The competition is keener, and I really think we had a top-five car at Darlington. It was better at the first of the race than it was at the end. We just made an adjustment at the end that the car didn't respond to. We tried to make it better, but sometimes you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.
"You always want to do better, but three straight seventh-place finishes at Darlington isn't bad. At least it's not any worse. It was our best finish of the season, and it was a morale and confidence booster for the team headed into Bristol. I know we've got a good team, and it was time for us to have a good finish.
"We had a good test at Bristol, and that 15.05-second lap was pretty impressive. The track wasn't black and greasy when Bobby ran it, and I know some people are saying it'll take a 14-second lap to get the pole, but I'm telling everybody right now that'll be a chore. Bobby ran that fast lap in ideal conditions, and the rubber hadn't built up on the track.
"We did have a fast car. We had a two-day test and probably put in 200 laps or more. They said Rusty Wallace used up nine sets of tires trying to run as fast as we did and couldn't do it. I don't know that for a fact, but that's what I heard. Rusty will be tough in the race. He always is, and the fans always get their money's worth at Bristol.
"We're all concerned about the sport. I don't know why some of the stands have been empty. I don't know if it's the ticket prices or TV or the internet or what. We're the same as pro football and baseball and basketball right now. I don't think racing is over saturated. We'll continue to grow. We've just got to build tracks you can race on so there's some excitement and fender-bender racing like you see at Bristol. The action is the best thing about this sport, and Bristol is one of the most popular races on the circuit because it's exciting. You can walk in the track and feel the buzz. You know something is going to happen. It's just a matter of time. You don't want to be involved in any of the accidents, but you know it's coming.
"We just signed a five-year deal with Kodak, and when we did that in 1990 just before the Bristol race, we went out and won the race with Ernie Irvan. That was Morgan-McClure's first win and Ernie's first win. Signing a five-year deal keeps away all the distractions and any uncertainty about the future. You can do long-range planning and better planning. We're glad Eastman Kodak continues to have confidence in the Morgan-McClure team. We've only won one race for them the last three years, but signing a new five-year deal is a big morale booster for Morgan-McClure Motorsports. Not many teams have a deal like that.
"We're on fire right now, and if someone (sponsor) would step up to the plate and get involved, we're there. We'd do a second car in a heartbeat if everything was right. We need it. It's hurting us, but we can still be competitive as a single-car Winston Cup team.
"We keep hearing about the common templates, and I think a Chevy has to look different than a Ford. We're going to lose something if all of the cars look the same. We need GM's support, and whatever they vote for, I'll do. I think some of the templates could be similar without the cars looking completely alike. I've been on both ends of the stick. I've been with Chevrolet when Ford had the best car and motors, and I've been with Chevrolet when they had the upper hand. You just do the best you can with what you've got, and you know NASCAR will eventually take the necessary steps to even things up.
"I'd love to win at Bristol again. Morgan-McClure has a big fan base in the area, but we haven't given them much to be more supportive about lately. Hopefully we can turn that around this weekend. We have a top-10 team, and we should be in the top 10 in the points. Our performance hasn't been all that bad. We just haven't had any luck. We're just going to try to right our wrongs and keep digging. If we can get just a little luck on our side on Sunday at Bristol, I think we'll give 'em all a run for their money."