Friday, May 14, 1999. Richmond International Raceway. Pontiac Excitement 400. STEVE HMIEL (Crew chief No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: This will be Hmiel's first race as acting crew chief for driver Steve Park and the...
Friday, May 14, 1999. Richmond International Raceway. Pontiac Excitement 400.
STEVE HMIEL (Crew chief No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: This will be Hmiel's first race as acting crew chief for driver Steve Park and the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo team. "I'm still Technical Director for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., but right now the focus is on the 1 car because it doesn't have a crew chief and I'm acting as the crew chief until we find a replacement that Dale Earnhardt is happy with and one who can work with Steve Park. It's hard to run good in Winston Cup racing, but we feel like we've got the people in place to do it. We've got great engines and great cars and it's my job to take that bunch and put 'em together and try to run up front with Steve and give him the kind of cars he wants to drive and he's comfortable with. That's everybody's job in here. That's nothing special. For the next 60 or 90 days or until we find the replacement we're looking for, I'll have a little more focus on the 1 car than I have had, but I'll still be involved with Dale Jr. and Ron Hornaday. "I want to do whatever is best for DEI. I really enjoy the technical director's side. I enjoy going to the wind tunnel and working on next week's project. The day-to-day racing is a lot of fun, too. I have no complaints either way, but as far as the long-range goals of Dale Earnhardt, Inc., I don't need to be a crew chief on a particular car. I need to help a little bit on everything. Until we get Steve running like he needs to be running, I'll probably continue to do this. "It's got a lot to do with personalities and the chemistry between the driver and the crew chief and the crew chief's ability to lead the guys. The guys have to believe in the crew chief at one level, and the driver has to believe in him at another level. Everybody has to march behind the crew chief to get the job done like he wants it done. There's a lot of good crew chiefs out here. I think Tommy Baldwin and the 22 car is an excellent example of how a crew chief and a driver really click. I think Greg Zipadelli has done a great job with Tony Stewart. Those guys work together well. There's a lot of good crew chiefs. Everybody looks for the big reputation, and it's not so much the reputation. It's a little bit of experience and a whole lot of ability to lead people. Then the driver and crew chief have to get along. "Crew chiefs might like to think they're like drivers and run up the salaries, but I think realistically it's got more to do with the driver's opinion of the crew chief than the world's opinion of the crew chief. As long as the driver and crew chief are communicating and the crew chief can get the guys underneath him doing what he wants to see done so the driver's happy, I think anybody can go be a crew chief. It's not a very hard job. You've got good mechanics and you've got good race car drivers. You've just got to tie them all together. "I think something will happen here before long inside the Winston Cup garage that will allow us to get someone that Dale wants and someone that Steve would have respect for and that could work together with our group. If it happens short term, that's fine. If not, we're prepared to do this until the end of the year or longer if it's necessary. The biggest goal at DEI is to be competitive on all three levels. Right now, the 1 car needs the most attention because it doesn't have a crew chief, so I stepped in to become a crew chief. I still have responsibilities for the other two teams. I don't miss being a crew chief at all. I was a crew chief for a long time, and I really enjoyed it. I was a tire changer for a long time and I really enjoyed it. I enjoy working for Dale Earnhardt Inc. right now as a technical director. They need me as a crew chief right now, so I'm happy to do whatever they want. I wasn't planning to go be a crew chief anymore. "Steve got hurt early on and here comes Darrell (Waltrip). Everybody gets along with Darrell. He's a superstar. He's an icon. He's got a real easy way about him. Steve comes back and we have some good days and bad days. We just need to tie all the guys together and get everyone pulling in the same direction. That's chemistry. Everybody's got that trouble. It takes a while to form chemistry. "We can't win here short-term, but they can win eventually. They have to win. They work for Dale Earnhardt. I think if you went and talked to Mark Martin or Jeff Burton, they'd say, 'yeah, we've won some races but we're nervous about the next one.' I'm sure Jeff Gordon is the same way. It's hard to win at this level, but you need to. "There's quite a bit more effort put into running 20th now than there used to be. Every one of these guys are working their tails off trying to run good. Some weeks they run 18th and some weeks they run eighth. Some weeks they get in a wreck, but there's an awful lot of people trying awful hard to win races right now. "I can remember going away from a lot of places being mad about running fifth or sixth with Mark Martin or Terry Labonte or Richard Petty. A fifth or sixth here Saturday night with Steve Park and you'd be thrilled to death. That's an indication of how competitive it is right now. That's not a slam on Steve Park at all. It's just a hard thing to do right now. The people who are doing it should be proud of what they're doing and also be happy that they've been blessed with the right situation to do it in. The people who haven't got there yet just need to keep on working until they get there. Some will get there and some never will. "When you're not there anymore, you realize how lucky you were when you were there. You'll get back. Things just have to go right for you. "I think we'll be a two-car Winston Cup team. We'll start that next week at Charlotte. I don't think we'll ever get a lot bigger than that. We don't need to get too big. We don't need to have four or five cars. I think Dale will keep it to two cars. I was hired to do whatever I can do to help DEI. "I talked to Steve on the radio on race day, so I've already developed a pretty good rapport with him. There's good chemistry there. The long-term goal is to get someone else in that spot so I can go off and do other things with Dale Jr. and Ron Hornaday. We need to get through the middle part of this year with some success for Steve and we think we'll be in even better shape with next year's Monte Carlo. "I think Steve's confidence was down when I first came around. Now he's stepping up. He's a race car driver. He knows what he wants and he would like to see it happen. He's not real demanding, but he knows how he wants a race car to feel and he's not going to settle for anything less than what he wants. I think that's the way it should be. "He got here awful fast and then got hurt awful fast. None of that was his fault, and it's a long, slow process coming back. He can only do what the race cars can do, and our race cars aren't exactly where they need to be and our engines weren't either. We want to make it be the car Steve Park would want if he could build it in his backyard garage with his dad. For a race car driver to run good, when he climbs through that window, he's got to feel like this is the best race car that can be put together. I don't know if we have done that too many times for him. For us to be successful, we're going to have to do it week in and week out."
STEVE PARK (No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo) "Steve has played a big role the last couple of weeks being the guy who's been doing most of the talking to me during the race. With Philippe Lopez's departure, it was the most logical move for us to put Steve in that role. Unfortunately, it's taken him away from some of the technical side at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. "These Pennzoil guys have really rallied around Steve and stepped up to the plate where we needed them to to keep the preparation of the cars there and to keep this team afloat. With Steve's leadership, we feel we can accomplish a lot in the race and hopefully lead us to our first top-10 finish. We needed to do something to try to move forward and get things turned around. Steve is a big part of that right now. Being a fellow New Yorker, we seem to be on the same page. When I'm thinking right front spring, he's thinking right front spring. That's something we've missed a little bit, and we're looking forward to getting back on track with that. The communication has been going real well through testing and all this week. I'm excited about a fresh start and a new outlook for the second half of the season. "We tested here with Steve and had a great test. We came out of here real happy with the things we accomplished. We went to Charlotte and has the same results with the test there. We're excited about turning those results into something positive on the track. We've had some really good race cars that have suited Steve Park this year, then we'd fall prey to mechanical failure or something would break and put us out of a top-10 finish. We haven't really shown any good finishes, but we've had some good runs. We just haven't been able to get to the end of the race. "We're starting to get the cars turned around now. Steve Park has recovered 100 percent, but he's lost the experience you need to be competitive in Winston Cup. Last week was my 32nd race, so I really just completed my first full season last week. I still haven't race Sonoma yet. As the team's growing, I'm growing. "Steve wants to know what I want in a race car and he takes a little more input from the driver. It worked in the Busch Series, and we think we can make it successful in Winston Cup. Steve's over-qualified for the position, but we're looking for some great things in the second half of the season. There's light at the end of the tunnel now. We don't think we're stuck on a dead end street. We think this is going to be a change that will put the car up near the front of the field. "Dale has been real supportive. He knows some of the plights we've been through. We probably could have been sitting here with five or six top-10 finishes, but we've had some problems. There's nothing a driver can do about that. Dale is a fair car owner. We need to be successful for him. This is a sophomore team, and we're just looking for some top 10s. That's our goal. We have a couple of top 11, but we haven't been able to get a top 10. We're not looking to go out there and kick everyone's butt. We're looking for our first top-10 and we think we can do it at Richmond."
STEVE PARK (No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo) "I haven't lost any confidence. I've gained some confidence really. I've gotten some support from outside people. I got hurt last year and I came back and ran in the top five just about all day at Indy (Brickyard 400). That was my first race back after almost a career-ending injury. That showed Dale and the team that Steve Park is back and he's about as good as he was before the injury. We just need to stay focused and get this team competitive week in and week out. "I've got a little facial hair left over from the motorcycle ride across America with the Kyle Petty Charity Ride. It's the first time I've done it and it raised half a million dollars for charities. After I got home, a lot of people commented on how they like the beard. I decided to leave it on for Richmond. If my luck turns around here, it's going to stay. If not, I'll be back to that clean-cut guy that I was before the motorcycle ride. If it intimidates the competition and we run good here at Richmond, and come out of here with a good finish, I'll leave it. This is the first time for me. I was worried about how my mom would feel about it. She's supportive of it, so I'm going to leave it. This is what you call pulling out all strings to get our luck turned around. We don't need any more mechanical failures. We need a good finish."