Chevrolet Atlanta pre-race notes

MIKE SKINNER (No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Skinner will make his 144th NASCAR Winston Cup start on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, while his crew chief, Larry McReynolds, will call his 457th and final race in the pits. Skinner and...

MIKE SKINNER (No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
NOTE: Skinner will make his 144th NASCAR Winston Cup start on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, while his crew chief, Larry McReynolds, will call his 457th and final race in the pits. Skinner and McReynolds had the strongest car on March 12, 2000 at AMS and were headed for victory when a broken rod bolt just 20 laps from the finish sidelined Skinner's Monte Carlo. Skinner led eight times for 191 of 325 laps at Atlanta in March. Ranked 12th in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings entering the season finale, Skinner and McReynolds get one last chance to park in victory lane before McReynolds heads to the Fox broadcast booth next season. Skinner, car owner Richard Childress and McReynolds shed some light on Atlanta.

"We had 'em covered at Martinsville the first race this season and had a piece of rubber get in the alternator and cost us that race," Skinner said. "That didn't show up as much as Atlanta because we dominated the race at Atlanta. A lot of things have changed from the beginning of the year until now. I just hope when we go back to Atlanta we can put ourself in contention to have a chance at getting that victory.

"There wasn't any place to point fingers last time at Atlanta. Something broke in the engine, something that was very uncommon that we don't break a lot. It wasn't the engine builder's fault, it wasn't my fault, it wasn't anybody's fault. It just happened. Part failure.

"For the first time in my Winston Cup career, we were pretty much on cruise control. We were just running whatever lap times they were running. We knew if we did that if we needed to go a little faster we could. When it got inside five to go, I was ready to drive on. I didn't want to take a chance that they were saving anything. We were out front and keeping the right front tire cool. We knew we had that race won if the fenders didn't fly off. I never expected the engine to break. It ran so good all day.

"We've come a long way with the bodies since then, but I feel like we're third in line right there. I feel like we've got to work on these bodies to keep up with the Pontiac and Ford. I know everybody at Chevrolet is wanting us to get to that point, but we're fighting city hall with NASCAR. It's a sin that sometimes the playing field looks more even than it really is." RICHARD CHILDRESS (Car owner RCR Chevrolet Monte Carlos)
"Skinner led the race up until about 20 to go or whatever it was and had the strongest race car all day. To break a rod bolt, I was just devastated because I really wanted to see him win a race. He deserves it. To see Earnhardt come back and be able to pull it off there, it was a bittersweet deal. That's a good thing about having a two-car team. They can pick you back up if you go down. It's like Talladega. Skinner was leading the race there with two to go and he came back around and had got shuffled and Dale was up there leading it. That's a good thing about having two good cars and two good drivers. You've always got a better chance of winning.

"Larry has been an asset to us. I feel real strong about Royce McGee. He's worked with us from day one with that team. Royce is a good leader. I'm looking for good things from Royce McGee.

"I'd love to see us win with Larry before he left. If not, nothing would be better than to see Mike go down there and win the Daytona 500 with Royce. I think it's a deserving race team to win a race. They've been in positions to win a race. All the racing gods just didn't line up right for 'em in one day. For three years it hasn't been fair to the Lowe's team. Three years ago I made a switch at crew chief in the middle of the year. Last year, in the middle of the year, Larry was deciding if he was going racing on his own to own a team or race with us. This year, midway through the season, he's going into a TV contract. We just haven't had any stability at crew chief from day one, and I think you've got to have that. You can't wait until next year. You can't wait until the next race. When there's a lot of uncertainty like we've had there, it's not healthy for the race team.

"I think the whole Goodwrench race team did a hell of a job this year. To come back and be a championship contender is great. We're really disappointed we didn't capitalize on a few opportunities that were out there in front of us. We had some opportunities to gain points and we just couldn't capitalize. I think we'll look back at the year 2000 and say we could have been there if. A lot of teams can do that, but we just look at the things where we should have capitalized and gained points.

"If Dale Earnhardt keeps the same attitude, and this race team keeps working like it did this year, the pit crew keeps it up and we keep Dale healthy, I think the key is keeping him healthy and keeping him in good race cars. But if we can do all that, Dale can be running for championships three or four years from now.

"I guess maybe we'll just have some new contracts for our crew chiefs, no monster truck races allowed."

LARRY McREYNOLDS (Crew chief No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"This is a very humbling sport. We know we can walk back in there with the same car, and there's a very good chance we may take the same car, same setup and we may struggle to run 10th or 20th. It's a moving target every week in this sport. We've got a choice of a couple of good cars to run there. We'll either run the car we ran at Homestead or the backup. We had two good cars we tested at Atlanta last year and we decided the one that was the best at Atlanta to run it at Homestead. You run your best shot every week and then if you can't, you run your next best. We finished sixth at Homestead last year, went home and packed the wheel bearings, cleaned it up, painted the nose and went to Atlanta and ran good with it the last race of the year down there. We think we've got an awfully good starting point to go down there. We've got a good starting point for qualifying on Friday and a good place on Saturday for practice, but we know we can't go down there with our chest stuck out because it could take a totally different package than it did there in the spring. The race track changes. People get better. People have better cars, better motors, more experience. Our car was awfully good, but there's a car that got tore up early in that race that was going to be awfully good -- Jeff Burton. We know we'll have to work hard. We can't rock back on our heels and say, 'OK, we'll be just fine here because we dominated in the spring.'

"If somebody had told me back before I took the Fox deal to pick a race track that you want to go to for your final race, my choices would have been Daytona, Talladega, Martinsville or Atlanta. If I took the full year's performance, Atlanta would have probably got the nod. Daytona and Talladega is a crap shoot and Martinsville, we were awfully good, but we were better in Atlanta. I couldn't have hand picked a better race to take Mike for my final race with him.

"We had an alternator problem at Martinsville and I think that overshadowed what we really had there. We were awfully good both Talladega races, but you've got so many other packages there, mainly what's pumping under that hood. That counts everywhere. That'll count at Atlanta. If you're running around there in 30 something seconds you're probably in the throttle 26 of those 30 something seconds. But if I looked at the whole picture, Atlanta was our best race this season. The pit crew was on the mark all day. We beat everybody off pit road the last stop, and that was important. We had the whole package clicking that day, no doubt, except for that one little rod bolt.

"It's probably weighed on me more this final three stretch. I went to Memphis and did the Busch race for TNN and came back to work Monday knowing that I was heading for the final three weeks. The next break I get I will be done, but I'm not like Darrell. Darrell never intends on going back and becoming a driver. I can't sit here and tell you that today, that I don't ever intend on coming back and being a crew chief. There's a good chance that you're probably going to see me in a uniform when we get to Daytona Beach in July. It's been pretty overwhelming the people that have come and ask me to help them, especially the second half. I stress, my first commitment, energy, effort, focus, everything I do is to the Fox people. That's my bread and butter. If I can help a race team or a racing organization a little bit the first half and especially the second half, it would help me stay close to the sport. Hopefully, my 20 years experience will help me contribute and help some team. I keep my finger close to the sport and when I go back to the booth in 2002, I'm current. I think that's important. It's a 2-4 year deal, but I'm taking this deal with Fox thinking long term. I didn't take it thinking it was something to give me a breather. I hope to be there 10 years f rom now, but I'm there a minimum of two years and probably four years minimum.

"There's a lot of memories. I can't tell you one only, but I think I can narrow it down to three. Winning the Daytona 500 in 1992 with Davey Allison, winning the 1998 Daytona 500 with Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan's comeback win at New Hampshire in '96. I'd have to shove those three to the top of the charts. I've had a lot of highs and lows. I feel very fortunate about the things the Good Lord has blessed me with in this sport for 20 years. I'm not sure how many starts I've had and how many starts I've had as a crew chief, but whatever 20 years is. I've only missed three races. The very first year I was in this sport in 1981, we missed a Riverside race with Don Sprouse. I was a mechanic, truck driver, we only had three fulltime employees. We did it all. Bob Rogers owned the team. The only two races I've missed and had to shut that door before Sunday afternoon was when we withdrew from Pocono the week after Davey got killed, and when we withdrew our car from the Michigan race when Ernie got hurt. I'm pretty proud of that record. I think that's a record that will stay intact through Atlanta because of where we're at in the points. I don't anticipate missing Atlanta. I'm pretty proud of that. There's not a lot of crew chiefs in that garage area that can say that. That I've made every race that I've been to except three and two of them have been circumstances out of our control. I've been with some good race teams, wonderful owners, great drivers. There's been some lows. Did those two lows, even though they happened seven years ago and six years ago, did they contribute to this decision? Absolutely. If I was still working with Davey Allison today would I be going to Fox? I'd hope not because I'd hope we'd be sitting here trying to get our fourth or fifth championship.

"Had Ernie Irvan not hit that wall on Saturday morning at Michigan, would be having this conversation? Probably not. I'm telling you what. I'll say it with boldness. Jeff Gordon would not have three championships and Dale Earnhardt would not have seven. Their butt was grass and Ernie Irvan was the lawn mower. That guy, before he hit that wall at Michigan, was awesome. I know that's a bold statement, but I don't think there's anyone in this garage area, especially with that 28 team that existed in '93 and '94, and if the truth be known, the 3 team that went on to win the championship that year after he got hurt will probably tell you the same thing.

"It made me stronger. A lot of people would have gone belly up after that deal. I go further back than that. I worked with Butch Lindley. We were getting ready to go to North Wilkesboro in 1983 when he went and ran that race down in Bradenton, Fla. I get a phone call in the middle of the night on Saturday night that Butch is in a coma down in Florida. I get the phone call on Monday afternoon after Loudon heading to Pocono that your driver has been in a serious helicopter accident. You overcome that and your race team overcomes it. You're sitting on the top of the world again with Ernie Irvan, leading the points, fighting for the championship, sitting there going into race 20 with about 15 top fives and 17 top 10s. He missed the rest of the year and still won the True Value Hard Charger Award. He only ran two-thirds of the races. You tell me where it was going to go. I probably questioned that one the most. It was three times this deal had hit me and twice with the 28 team. I'm a Christian and I know God does everything for a reason. The Davey Allison deal, when we lost the championship in '92, on April 1 of 1993, I thought we got the answer why. Alan Kulwicki got killed in the airplane. Alan got his chance to win the championship (1992) and we still had more chances. On July 13, it became a little more unclear again. That's the way God works and we don't question it. You just try to be stronger after it happens. I feel like the race teams I've been with, that 28 team, we showed a lot of strength, a lot of faith, a lot of guts because we kept coming back. I'll never forget when Ernie Irvan took that checkered flag at Loudon in '96, Robert Yates and I looked at each other and said mission accomplished.

"Twenty years of doing it, and an 11, 9 and 3-year-old that I always had to tell maybe next time. Daddy can you go to my dance recital Wednesday night? No, I've got to go to the wind tunnel, but I'll go to the next one. That little girl would look at me knowing the next one was never going to happen, either. Or trying to race with my son and being at Indianapolis testing trying to keep track of him. All of that won't go away with Fox. It's still a job. It's still traveling. It's still a commitment. It's not an easy way to make a living. I can be a crew chief and do it the easy way. I can be a crew chief and do it the hard way. If you're going to get the most out of it, you'd better go down the hard way path. It's the same with a broadcaster. I can walk in here every day at 10 or 11 o'clock and leave here about 2 or 3 every day and go up in that booth on Sunday. I might fake it pretty good for awhile, but it's going to catch up with me. I can come in this garage area at 7 o'clock when these guys come in here and walk up and down these trailer hallways, talk to these crew chiefs, talk to these drivers and sit up there and clock practice and watch the monitor. That's how I can do a good job, and that's what I intend on doing. I'm not going to be walking up and down these halls trying to dig dirt up. We've got to report the bad with the good. The world doesn't want to hear everything is wonderful and peachy. You can't do that. If Dale Earnhardt knocks the hell out of Terry Labonte off turn two the last lap at Bristol, we can sit up there and say Terry got a little loose, well, no he didn't. Dale knocked the hell out of him. That's what Larry's going to do. That's what the Fox people want. They don't want someone sitting up there saying Terry got out of the gas and Dale kind of bumped him. That ain't what I saw.

"I told NASCAR and Goodyear not to shut the door on me. Tell me what's going on. Tell me what you've done and why you've done it. I'm not going to create something, but don't push me in a corner and make me create something. If tires are tearing up on Saturday, we can't just shove it under the carpet on Sunday. They've got to tell us why so when the first car pops a tire on Sunday we can tell them what their version is.

"I don't think being a crew chief is any different than being a head football coach. The difference is our season is 10 months without a lot of down time in the other two months. Guys will be testing Daytona in two months. I don't know how much time will be involved doing the TV because I haven't done it. But in a perfect world, you travel on Monday, talk about the previous race on Tuesday, review the tape, no different than a football coach. Maybe Wednesday will be my own and then travel again on Thursday. You're at the track Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I'll be working five to six days a week. Fox may see it different and have me working seven. There's a lot of unknowns.

"I wasn't hunting an easier job. I was just hunting a little relief, and Fox gave me that opportunity. I'll be in different clothes, but I'm still going to wait on that man to unlock the garage gate. No matter what I do, I try to do it 100 percent. If my wife asks me to rearrange the furniture, I'm going to get a measuring tape out and make sure the left is the same distance from the wall as the right. I can't help it if the walls are crooked. When I cut the grass, I'm going to edge it and blow the driveway. I'm not going to run across the grass with a lawn mower. I guess there's a psychological term for someone like me, but I suppose I'm really just a nut."

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Ernie Irvan , Terry Labonte , Robert Yates , Alan Kulwicki , Davey Allison