Skinner not satisfied despite career year By Marty Smith [The top-10 drivers in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings will be honored during the series banquet at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City on Friday, Dec. 3. Mike Skinner ...
Skinner not satisfied despite career year By Marty Smith
[The top-10 drivers in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings will be honored during the series banquet at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City on Friday, Dec. 3. Mike Skinner finished a career-high 10th in the 1999 campaign, and will be on stage for the banquet for the first time.]
When the 1997 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season concluded, a seat at the series banquet was the first thing on Mike Skinner's mind, but the furthest thing from his grasp.
After a roller-coaster rookie campaign, Skinner finished 30th in the series point standings -- nowhere near the top-10, and thus nowhere near the stage at the Waldorf Astoria.
Two years later, much has changed for the driver of the No. 31 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet. He finished the 1999 season 10th on the points chart, good enough for a reserved seat at the NASCAR Winston Cup Series banquet for the first time in his career.
"I just can't thank this race team enough," Skinner, the series' 1997 rookie of the year, said following his 6th-place run in the season-ending NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "We've got one awesome race team. These guys did me a great job all year. I'd like to thank (crew chief) Larry McReynolds, (car owner) Richard Childress, Lowe's and everybody that's helped on this race team this year.
"It's a start for us. We're going to be a little bit better next year. We'll get a little bit better table at the end of next year."
The table to which Skinner is referring is his post at Friday's banquet -- one he's ecstatic with, yet equally disappointed about, at the same time. There were several instances throughout the year in which Skinner's No. 31 Chevrolet was the finest car in the field, yet he prematurely fell out of contention due to mechanical failure, a bad pit stop or some other extraneous factor. Thus, even though he finished in the top-10 for the first time in his career, he knows he could've been much better.
Skinner started the year on a tear, posting four-straight top-10 runs to open the season, which came as surprise to no one. In fact, that's what he was "supposed" to do. The 31 team showed flashes of brilliance last season after Childress' famous midseason crew chief swap that sent McReynolds to the 31 shop and Kevin Hamlin to direct Dale Earnhardt and the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus crew.
Following the switch, Skinner was a weekly contender, and even won the non-points race held in Japan for the second straight year. That success parlayed into high expectations for 1999 -- expectations the 31 team would all but surpass.
Heading into the '99 campaign, McReynolds laid out two specific goals for his squad -- finish in the top-10 in points and win at least one race. And, although they failed to lift Skinner to Victory Lane in 1999, they were on the verge on several occasions. The most notable of those runs was in the Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400 at Richmond International Raceway, where he sat on the Bud Pole and dominated much of the race before falling victim to bad luck and finishing 11th.
Skinner finished four races in fourth position, three of those coming in the first eight races of the season. His best run of the year, however, came at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Oct. 3, when he drove home third in the UAW-GM Quality 500.
This past Sunday, he closed the year with a sixth-place run in the NAPA 500. However, that run served as a microcosm of his entire season -- good, but not good enough.
"I'm not going to cry about it," said Skinner following the race. "We had the best Chevrolet at the end of the day and finished first in class. But you know, last night I though we had the car to beat. I really did .I though it would be us, (race winner) Bobby Labonte or Mark Martin. Those three cars I though were awfully good.
"The 31 car was awesome last night in Happy Hour. It was the best Happy Hour I probably had all year. I slept good and thought I could win the race."
Maybe Skinner's breakthrough campaign will come in 2000. Maybe that's what is "supposed" to happen. Either way, he's come a long way in three years. Just ask him, he'll tell you.