Michigan Kodak Race Team Preview

McClure pulling out all stops, preparing for second-half surge Larry McClure says it's time for the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Racing Team to stop spinning its wheels, and the Morgan-McClure Motorsports owner has taken steps to ensure that...

McClure pulling out all stops, preparing for second-half surge

Larry McClure says it's time for the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Racing Team to stop spinning its wheels, and the Morgan-McClure Motorsports owner has taken steps to ensure that everything goes according to plan this weekend at Michigan Speedway.

Driver Bobby Hamilton and company stand 13th in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings heading into Sunday's Pepsi 400 at the two-mile track in Michigan's Irish Hills. Hamilton has one top-five and five top-10 finishes to his credit this season.

He started 38th and finished 31st earlier this season at Michigan, but the team is taking a different Chevy to the track this time around and McClure isn't expecting the same results.

"We couldn't get a handle on the car last time," McClure said. "It was loose all weekend. We never could get it tightened up for the race. We tried everything we had to get it tight, but we couldn't and we had a terrible weekend.

"We're going back with a different car and a basic setup. We won't be going up there with a lot of real aggressive springs. We're going back with a basic car, and I think we'll have a good weekend.

"We found there was a problem with the chassis when we got home last time. We found out what happened. We just need to go back and hit the track pretty good and tune on it from there."

McClure's team has been fine-tuning all season. Hamilton climbed to 13th in the standings after a seventh-place finish at Darlington in March but dropped as low as 20th after the race at Fontana, Calif., in May. Since then, Hamilton has fought back to 13th in the standings and is 298 points out of 10th.

He finished 10th in the 1998 standings in his first season behind the wheel of the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Monte Carlo. McClure said there's plenty of time left for Hamilton to climb back to 10th in the 1999 standings, but that's not exactly what McClure wanted this season.

"It seems like we're a second-half team," McClure said. "Five years ago we were a first-half team, but now it seems like we pick up speed in the second half of the season.

"Last year we won a race at Martinsville early. We had some decent runs, but toward the end of the year we picked up some momentum and had some good runs at Rockingham, Charlotte, Atlanta and Phoenix. It's time to start running like that again. I've run out of excuses.

"It's obvious here in the last little bit that we haven't been good enough to win a race, but we've got some race tracks coming back to us that we'll be real good at. We could win Phoenix, Martinsville, Rockingham. If we pick up that little bit we're missing, Bobby ought to be able to win anywhere he goes. We've definitely got the equipment. We've got to select the right setup for it and make him comfortable so he can go out there and push it."

Hamilton's three career victories on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit came at Rockingham, Phoenix and Martinsville. It's been 46 races since Hamilton's most recent victory at Martinsville on April 19, 1998. Hamilton also won the pole for that race and won a pole at Michigan in 1996.

"If you get the car off somewhere, the driver's confidence is hurt a little bit and you're just not as consistent as you need to be," McClure said. "I think everybody out here has a lot of talent. Sometimes things go well and you just click. We need to get back to where we were and be consistent every week.

"You've got six really, really good race teams out here right now. They're good every week. A bunch of us are just struggling. We'll hit it one week and be off the next. We're going to get there some way. We're going to get that consistency back.

"The sport is changing. You can buy speed. You see new teams springing up. They've got pretty good sponsorships, and it's getting more competitive all the time. You see these young people coming in. They won't be good at every track, but they'll be good at one or two tracks and it makes it tougher. Still, those same six people are in the top echelon. We've got to get back there."

McClure predicts the Morgan-McClure Racing Team will be running with the leaders before the season ends. Hamilton led two laps last week at Watkins Glen before finishing 22nd. Although the end result left something to be desired, McClure applauded the effort put forth by the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Team.

"We've started to pick up some momentum," McClure said. "We spent most of the season almost spinning our wheels. You're going to see a different race team from here on out this season. We turned up the burner on ourselves. If we've got a problem with commitment, policy or pitting the car or selecting the right chassis or selecting the right setup, we're going to pick it up.

"For the next few weeks, Bobby is going to be at the shop on Monday and Tuesday. He can satisfy himself and give himself a little more confidence that things are the way he wants them. We're willing to try to do about anything we can do to turn this thing around. I know he has the skills to drive a race car. We've just got to get it clicking a little bit better.

"Team morale is good right now. It's amazing. This team is resilient. We might have a bad race but the next week we're there. In the last 13 years, Morgan-McClure Motorsports has not been able to pit a car competitively.

"This year we've gone from a 21-second pit stop to where most of them are around 17 seconds. We've made giant steps there. The whole pit crew practices three times a week at the race shop. If we can just pick up a little bit, we can be there with those 16-second stops. I don't have any fear that we're going to be able to make the top 10 in the points, but that's not good enough for me.

"I want to win. I want to win a race and run good every week. My sponsor deserves that, and that's what we're going to do."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Hamilton