NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference with Mike Skinner, driver of the No. 4 Kodak MAX Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Morgan-McClure Motorsports, and crew chief, Chris Carrier. Part 1 of 2 Mike Skinner was the inaugural NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series ...
NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference with Mike Skinner, driver of the No. 4 Kodak MAX Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Morgan-McClure Motorsports, and crew chief, Chris Carrier.
Part 1 of 2
Mike Skinner was the inaugural NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion (1995). He has collected 10 top 5's and 38 top 10's in his NASCAR Winston Cup career. His best finishes so far this season have been a pair of 12ths at Texas Motor Speedway and Infineon Raceway. As the series heads for New Hampshire this weekend, Skinner currently ranks 29th in the point standings.
After being with Richard Childress Racing from 1997-'01 and moving to Morgan-McClure Motorsports this year, do you have to learn everything from scratch?
"I don't think you have to learn everything from scratch. It takes some adjustments in personalities. The crew chief has to understand you and you have to understand him. You have to get to know the sponsors and the PR people and everybody that's involved. They play a major role in Winston Cup racing and it's a little different everywhere you go. I'd say it's more of an adjustment period.
"In this case, it's almost like we're rebuilding a race team. The Morgan-McClure team was very strong a few years back. They won the Daytona 500. They won several races and all of a sudden went into somewhat of a slump. So we're kind of rebuilding things. Hopefully we can get the thing competitive again."
When you first joined Morgan-McClure Motorsports, what were some of the goals that you and Larry McClure talked about?
"Basically just turning things around. I think that he felt like my aggressive driving style and my experience behind the wheel and giving feedback would help. When you're putting several different drivers in the car and nobody stays in it long enough to establish that relationship it's easy to say that the motor won't run or the car won't turn. There are a lot of reasons why we're not doing good. You become a professional at making excuses. Instead of making excuses, we need to try to find answers. That's what our goal was when we started. I don't know if we've been real good at that, but I think we've helped a bit."
As a former participant in 'silly season', what's it like for those drivers in the middle of making changes? Does it get to them?
"I think so. There are a couple of guys out there that are real secure at knowing they're going to have a job and be in competitive equipment. There are some that are rolling the dice a little bit. I've got to admire them because it's pretty tough. You get accustomed to a lifestyle. We live a great life. Don't get me wrong. What happens though is that you have two pilots and a coach driver and secretaries and accountants and somebody who takes care of your yard because you're never there. You have all these employees - people who are depending on you for their living. When you just decide that your situation isn't real good and you're going to pull yourself out of the mix and resign or whatever and you don't have a guaranteed job, that puts a lot of people in jeopardy. I admire their bravery that they're able to do that - whether they're financially stable enough to do it, or whatever. But if it's not working and you've given it two or three years and you know you can do better behind the wheel and the communication isn't as good, then you've got to make a move."
Are you counting on the second half of the season to be better than the first half?
"Absolutely. We started out with Scott Eggleston and we got along fine. We just didn't have great communication as far as the chassis goes on the car. He always wanted to run different stuff than what I was accustomed to running. I felt we needed to go back to what I was accustomed to in the No. 31 car at the places we were competitive. A lot of times we didn't do that. Then, Chris Carrier came along and Scott took the job as manager and overseeing stuff and consulting with us. It only worked for two weeks. We had a lot of success and the car ran up front and ran good. And then Scott left us. Now we're basically starting over again. I'm working with a crew chief I have a little bit of history with. We ran really competitive in Andy Petree's Busch car when Chris was a crew chief on it and I drove it some. Chris has brought some positive things to the table as far as communication skills with me. Now we're going back to places again for the first time together, so we're almost having to start all over. Man, it's frustrating. It'd be nice to have some history and make our own notes instead of going off of somebody else's notes. We need to be making our own."
On the growth of NASCAR Winston Cup and having it draw drivers from all parts of the country
"It's really been a major contribution to the sport. We go to so many different places; you'll have a natural fan base there when you have drivers who come from there. You establish a fan base whether you're the NASCAR Winston Cup champion or you're 30th in points. You still have people who pull for you because of where you come from. We have a lot of fans in California and Texas. I don't know what it is. But I think it's great to have drivers and crew chiefs come from all over the place.
"NASCAR has really changed in the past few years from the 'good ole' boys' to 'rocket science'. The technology in these race cars and the education of the people coming into the sport is way different than it used to be - even five or ten years ago. Our sport has really gone to another level. Along with that, the television audience has become bigger so the networks have become more interested and willing to put more money into it to and get us out there to every television set that we can get to across the United States. I think it's been really good."
Do you think some of the fans long for the good ole' days and the 'good ole' boys'?
"Absolutely. The hot thing right now is the young guns. There's an air about this thing with all these young guys coming in. But we get a lot of support for some of the old guys and the veterans by some of those types of people (that long for the old days). The reason that we have a lot of young drivers doing well is because they're stepping into equipment that is superior. It used to be that if you were a rookie, you didn't start out driving for Rick Hendrick or Richard Childress or Robert Yates. You had to start out in some of the less-funded teams and you didn't get up there and win two or three races your first year out. So this has happened with time."
On his driving style in Winston Cup compared to Craftsman Truck
"The biggest difference was that I was used to running up front almost every week and winning a lot of races in the truck series. I think what happened to me was that I came into the Winston Cup Series and didn't change anything. I'd have to race that hard to run 25th. So then you start trying to make you car do things that it's not capable of doing and you make rookie mistakes. You put yourself in places that you shouldn't and you end up in trouble. The level of competition in Winston Cup is the difference between playing high school basketball and playing in the NBA."
Can you beat, bang, and rub more in the Craftsman Truck Series than you can in Winston Cup?
"One of the reasons (why) you can do that is the aero package. If you knock the fender in on a Winston Cup car, it makes the car push so bad that you go backwards immediately. So we're a lot more careful about tearing the front end of our racecars up in Winston Cup. In the truck series, it doesn't affect it nearly as bad. A couple of years back, we saw Jay Sauter run really good at Texas with the right front fender tore completely off the truck. If you tear the right front fender off a Winston Cup car at Texas, you're not going to win the race or run up front. I can promise. You're going to go backyards because the aerodynamics are so important.
"The other thing is that the wheelbase is longer on the trucks. It's a couple inches longer. They're a lot more forgiving. You can knock somebody in the side and get them sideways and it's a lot easier to gather that thing up and keep going than it is in a Winston Cup car."
On adjusting to the sponsor demands and PR people and off-track responsibilities in Winston Cup
"There's a lot of adjusting. Lisa Shealy is our PR representative on the Morgan-McClure team for Kodak, and she and I were friends for a long time. We had known each other since the truck series. It was really different to (go from) being friends to working together. We had a lot of adjusting to do to get to the point where she knew what I wanted and I knew what she expected. We're still doing it. You almost have to just take the first year and a half and see if everyone's compatible. If they are, you really concentrate on moving it to the next level."
In addition to being a re-building year for Morgan-McClure Motorsports, is this a re-building year for you?
"I think so. The frustrating part is that I feel like I'm probably a better racecar driver and am probably in better physical and mental shape than I've been in for a long time. We're having a hard time making that show up because of not being more competitive. So yes. In a sense it's a re-building period for me as well.
"We had the Atlanta crash and the two bad Texas crashes - all results of tires blowing out or running over something or whatever. I really don't know. When you jump back in that racecar and you think you're 100 percent but you're not, you really don't know why things aren't going that great. And then, when you take some time off and actually go through the physical therapy and have proper surgeries and have your knee rebuilt and get your neck and back in good shape, you really realize how bad you were hurt. But I was probably hurt a lot more than I ever expected to be."
Mike Skinner press conference, part II