Morgan-McClure Motorsports and Bobby Hamilton, driver of the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Monte Carlo, have finished 7th in the past three visits to Darlington Raceway. Morgan-McClure Motorsports has one win at Darlington with...
Morgan-McClure Motorsports and Bobby Hamilton, driver of the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Monte Carlo, have finished 7th in the past three visits to Darlington Raceway. Morgan-McClure Motorsports has one win at Darlington with Sterling Marlin in 1995 at the TranSouth Financial 400. Bobby Hamilton's best Darlington start is 5th in September 1999. His best finish is 7th, both races of the 1999 season and the spring race of the 2000 season.
Highlights of NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference with Bobby Hamilton, car owner Larry McClure and crew chief Danny Gill
BOBBY HAMILTON (No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Monte Carlo) "Just staying off the fence (is the key to success at Darlington), and that's hard to do there. Several guys have won that race and have had the recognized Darlington stripe. It depends on who hits it the lightest. Every lap you go around there there's one groove that works and then two laps later that groove doesn't work any more. We've been pretty fortunate the last three or four races. We've been able to run there and not get in any crashes and not even get a stripe on the car. All that means is we're way overdue for it, but we're looking forward to going back. "It (Darlington track) actually deteriorates, and I don't mean that in a bad way. There's so much sand there, and the wind blows the sand across and when the cars drive on it and you have the sand blowing across the race track it has a sandpaper effect. It just absolutely wears the asphalt down. "I think it's just the heat (that makes cars slower in September at Darlington). It's pretty wore out. They've paved the thing, but in three or four races it loses quite a bit of time. Heat wears on it quite a bit. It's always a little cooler in the spring, and of course when you get asphalt hot, it bleeds the oil in it and it makes the race track a little slippery. You don't get quite the grip you should get. "Me and Larry (team owner McClure) were talking one day and we feel like it took us a year and a half to dig this big hole we're in, so we're still trying to dig out. We're not going to dig back out in a week or two. No doubt that Danny Gill (new crew chief) has made a difference. If it had laid right at Pocono, we would have had a top-10 finish. Michigan, we had broken a shock and finished 14th. We had run in the top 10 all day. "At Bristol, I was trying to get a lap back and ran over Jeremy (Mayfield). We had a flat and hit something on the race track and were running sixth at that time. It's not hard to swallow now because we know we're competitive. We're unloading pretty good. We're getting our race setups almost perfect now and the motor program has really come along. I think when all the ingredients finally meet in the middle, it'll mold into one and we'll be there. You've just got to be patient with it. It took us a long time to get in this shape, and in this sport, as competitive as it is, you don't overcome it overnight. "I don't think we have to (race back to the start/finish line), but I think it's a necessity because of how competitive it is. These days, as competitive as NASCAR has the rules and all, you can be one tenth off the pace and in 500 miles you're three laps down. That's their fair way of saying, just give you a shot at giving you your lap back, or have a double-file restart. That'll give you a chance and also let you start on the bottom, which is better for the lapped cars. They try to make it every way possible to make it competitive. If they didn't, they'd end up at a lot of race tracks with five or six cars on the lead lap. We don't need that. We don't need it for the people in the grandstands. As far as the safety thing, just what happened the other night, sure bad things can happen, but that shouldn't happen. We have our own reasons why it shouldn't have happened, but we won't go there. "We were supposed to be working with the leader a little bit, and it didn't happen. That was my mistake. When I jumped up there the track was open and all of a sudden Jeremy moved up to get out of the leaders way, and I couldn't stop. It was just as simple as that. Yes, that is unsafe, but we were just lucky it was on a short track. It wasn't on a real big track. "It's been close a couple of times, and then again, it was close the other night (at Bristol). Cars were sitting cross ways in turn four, and I was trying to get a lap back. Three or four of us slipped through there. Actually, the communication between NASCAR, the spotters and the drivers is really, really exceptional. They really work good together. Everybody is monitoring what NASCAR is saying and NASCAR is monitoring what everybody else is doing. "We really can't get it much safer. I think that's probably one of the safest things we've got going. We don't really take a lot of chances. That wasn't a chance I took the other day. The hole just closed up. That happens in the race. It just happened to happen during a caution flag, so it's not really that bad I don't think, and the bigger the race track the less chances all the people take because they have that much respect for one another. "Some race tracks that we go to, a soft wall would be better. Some race tracks we go to, it wouldn't make any difference. It's just like Indianapolis. The race track is square. When you go down the front straightaway, you're looking into a 90-degree wall. If something happens, you're almost head-on. It's the same way with New Hampshire or even Martinsville. "You go to Michigan or a place like that, and actually the impact isn't quite as severe because you've got more of a sweeping corner. There's no blame to be laid because we've got to have walls, but you can sort of say OK, the smaller race tracks, the flatter race tracks probably need a softer wall. "In the seat area, there's always (room for) improvement in the driver's compartment. It's sad to say sometimes, but we have to see bad things happen. I don't mean lives being taken, like what's happened to us this year. We definitely don't want to see that, but we have to see the things give in the race cars in order to fix them. "I was looking at Jimmy Hensley's truck when he wrecked at Chicago. I saw a couple of areas in the leg brace areas that could have been helped. It didn't hurt him or anything, but the stuff really moved a long way. "Every time something like that happens, a bad wreck happens, NASCAR takes the car. They look at it. They dissect it, and they come back one-on-one and talk to all the crews and let us know what they think we can do to help the situations. Also, the crew chiefs and drivers take it upon themselves to do that. "Those two areas are where it's at, but I'm also a firm believer that you can get a seat too stiff, and then you start breaking stuff in the driver. It's just a little in both areas still."
LARRY McCLURE (Car owner No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Monte Carlo) "Everybody loves Darlington. I think it's one of our favorite race tracks. We were lucky enough to win a race there with Sterling (Marlin), I think back in '95. Since we've had Bobby, I think we've had (three straight) seventh place finishes there. We're looking forward to it, and I think we're going to be ready for it. "I may have had the problems, but I think I could have got things going in the right direction a lot quicker (with a second team) because with more testing and input from two different drivers and race teams, I think we could have got through this a lot quicker. "Any time you go to Darlington, the surface there is so gritty, it chews up the tires. We've been kind of fortunate the last four or five races to get a handle on that because you have to watch your camber and you have to watch your air pressure and we have to have tire management throughout the race to make those long green flag runs you see at Darlington. I would expect that they haven't changed the characteristic of the tire so much that we won't be able to get a quick handle on it. I'm sure it'll be equally as good as it was, so if it's as good as it was last time, just to have a better wear characteristic, I think we'll be OK. "We like being up here in Southwest Virginia (Abingdon), but I think it has been a little harder to get people sometimes just to pull up roots and move here out of the Charlotte area. If a guy is good, he can go in that area and find another job. I guess it's been a little harder for us to get people from time to time, but it's getting a lot easier now for some reason. I don't know if people are aware of the facility we have here and the way we run things here, but actually, it hasn't been a big problem but there have been times when I can't go down the street and get somebody like they can in Charlotte. "I guess the mix here is probably half and half with people coming from other areas like Charlotte or Wilmington or something like that. You're getting more quality now from all over the United States. They don't have to come from Charlotte. Just like we brought Danny Gill (crew chief) in from out of Nashville, he was full of ideas and was fresh and that's worked out real well for us. "Personally speaking, I think Darlington has such tradition that it would be a shame to pull a race away from there and take it to some other area. Although NASCAR does a great job with marketing and placing or getting race tracks in areas that we need for marketing purposes, but Darlington is such a terrific race track and a good race for the fans. I certainly would hate to see us go somewhere else. Most of the teams are located pretty close to Darlington, and it sure is a lot less expensive to go there than it would be to the state of Washington or somewhere. I kind of like the idea of having two races at Darlington. "You look down the line, and it's always been the race track that's too hard to tame. It's got a little bit of everything in it, and it's different than any other place we race. I think it's a big challenge, and I think a couple of years ago when we had Burton and Gordon running for that million dollars, it was a terrific race. It's real exciting. I think the fans like Darlington, and we certainly like it because we've been successful there. "I think my first race there was with Mark Martin years ago. It was like 101 degrees. I was young and didn't know what to do. I think we ran Mark Martin in that whole race without giving him any water. We've torn up a lot of cars there. They used to give rookies a test before they'd let 'em race there. That's how hard it is. I was in awe of it. I'd heard such tales about it, people running with guard rails on the side of their cars leaning up against the wall. It's just been kind of mystical for me."
DANNY GILL (Crew chief No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Monte Carlo) "I have never been to Darlington. Actually, I don't think I've ever been to South Carolina. I'm excited about going to the historic track. I'm a little nervous, too. The team has finished seventh the past three visits to Darlington Raceway. It would be really hard for me to stray from their chassis combination. There are some geometry things that are a little different than what had been used before. We've found these combinations since I've been here, so I hope we can take seventh and make it a little better. "We're not straying too far from what had been used, just doing some minor changes. As far as preparing for Darlington, I don't know really what to prepare for, other than a bunch of pit stops. I know we have to change tires a lot there because the track eats tires. I've been at Morgan-McClure about two months now. The initial excitement of the job has worn down, and now it's business. It's a little tough. I'm homesick right now. My wife, Lorraine, still lives back in Nashville. We haven't seen too much of each other the past couple of months. I haven't been back home since Indy. It is just an adjustment to have to get used to right now. "When we're at the track every week, I'm focused on running good, and I stay busy. When Monday and Tuesday roll around, it makes it tough because I miss seeing her. I guess that is one of the toughest parts of relocating in this business. Sometimes you can't expect your family to just pick up and move around. So we are working through it. We'll make the proper adjustments at the end of the season. "Otherwise, the transition has been all right. I'm not saying the truck series is not competitive, but Winston Cup is a whole different ball game. In the truck series, there are a couple of competitive teams that have a chance of winning every week. In Winston Cup, we unload each week to face 40 something other cars that can be just as competitive as we are. "Larry (McClure) and Bobby (Hamilton) really don't put that much pressure on me. I put it on myself. I'm competitive. I want good finishes. Bobby is an awesome driver. He has lost some respect because of things that have happened during races this year. I think people should not forget that he still knows how to get up on the wheel and drive the heck out of a race car. This team is awesome. The facility is great. The guys have so many ideas and so much talent. I'm here to help put the stock back into our driver and our team. Those changes will not hurt my reputation as a crew chief, either. "This team just lacked leadership. All of the other ingredients have been in place. I hope we can continue to improve in the right direction. The remaining races on our schedule are good tracks for Hamilton and the team. "We're working on six race cars right now in the shop. Usually that number would be two. Some of the guys have good ideas, and I have a few, so we're implementing them. We'll see what happens with it. "I'm ready to go tackle the old track "too tough to tame." Then if all goes well, I get to go home for a few days next week."