McReynolds-Skinner relationship blooms by Shawn A. Akers WELCOME, N.C. (Aug. 11, 1998) As a crew chief for a top-flight NASCAR Winston Cup Series team, rapport with his driver has always been an area of non-compromise for Larry McReynolds....
McReynolds-Skinner relationship blooms by Shawn A. Akers
WELCOME, N.C. (Aug. 11, 1998) As a crew chief for a top-flight NASCAR Winston Cup Series team, rapport with his driver has always been an area of non-compromise for Larry McReynolds. Good communication, McReynolds says, equals stronger performance on the race track. He had that with Davey Allison at Robert Yates Racing, and even with the sometimes mercurial Ernie Irvan. In the short time he's been the crew chief for the No. 31 Lowe's Home Improvement Chevrolet, he and driver Mike Skinner have developed a close friendship. And in the past few weeks, Skinner's results on the track have reflected an outstanding working relationship with his new mentor. Skinner has posted three top-five finishes in his last four races, including a career-best third-place run in the Bud at the Glen at Watkins Glen International last Sunday. Skinner was even in a position to win at the end, but couldn't hold off the charging Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin at the end. Since McReynolds moved over to the 31 team from the No. 3 team back in June, Skinner has made a steady climb in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, and is beginning to show the promise at NASCAR's highest level that he showed as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' first champion in 1995. "Chemistry is everything, and we have some great chemistry," Skinner said. "Larry and I spend a lot of time together when we're not working, and yes, we are friends away from the track. That makes our working relationship that much stronger. "We were friends even before he came over to the 31 team, and I was good friends with Kevin Hamlin (now crew chief for Dale Earnhardt), too. If I pay attention to him (McReynolds) and listen to him, he's a veteran crew chief and he can teach me a lot and help me with my career. We can kind of get over some of these sophomore blues. This sophomore jinx just might be on the way out." Finding the right chemistry with his drivers has rarely been a problem for McReynolds. When he joined Robert Yates Racing in 1991, he instantly bonded with the likable Allison, and in a little less than three years together, the two combined to win 11 races. Irvan came on board soon after Allison's death to drive the No. 28 Texaco-Havoline Ford, and, in nine races in 1993, Irvan earned a pair of wins. Irvan would win three races in 1994 before his near-fatal accident at Michigan. In McReynolds' final season with Yates in 1996, Irvan won two more races. In between, Dale Jarrett had a victory with McReynolds on board in 1995. "Davey and I not only had a great working relationship, and we were not only friends, but we were the best of friends," McReynolds said. "We had a great relationship away from the track, and that bled into our relationship at the track that led to a lot of success at the track. "And it was the same way with Ernie, too. My family and his family got along extremely well. A lot of people saw Ernie as hard to work with, but I never had any problems at all with him and we got along great, and we were able to win races in the time that he was healthy." When McReynolds moved over to the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus team to work with Dale Earnhardt, outside speculation had it that McReynolds and Earnhardt's personalities clashed, leading to the team's slight downfall last season. Most of that, however, was put to rest when Earnhardt took the checkered flag in the season-opener, winning his first Daytona 500 with McReynolds by his side. When the 31 and 3 teams switched crew chiefs two months ago, that talk surfaced again, but McReynolds downplayed it. "Dale and I got along just fine, it's just that both teams were struggling and we had to do something to shake things up," McReynolds said. "Our goal was to try to get both teams going in the right direction, and I think the results have been very positive. I think the change, albeit a reluctant one, has been good for both teams to this point." Adversity has also swirled around Skinner, who has been rumored this season to be on the brink of losing his job as the driver of the 31 car. McReynolds himself has even questioned his status with the team. But that's something that both he and Skinner have tried to put on the back burner, if not overlook, and focus solely on racing. "I can't say that we've put that out of mind, but maybe out of sight," McReynolds said. "At one point, I wasn't sure of where Larry McReynolds was at. But right now, we can't look at that. We have to go to the race track and do the best we can. I can't imagine working any harder than what we've been doing. If we just do the best we can, hopefully that will be good enough." One of the things McReynolds likes best about Skinner is that he tries to spend as much time at the race shop as possible, interacting with the entire team. "There are times when Mike will come and spend a half day or three quarters of the day here at the shop spending time with the team, and that's very important," McReynolds said. "Mark Martin spends a lot of time with his team, and his performances on the race track are the result of that. A driver has to be an integral part of a team, and Mike is very much that with this team." McReynolds said he and Skinner spend a lot of nights at the race track going over strategy for practices, qualifying and races. The "bull sessions" have been an important part of their race weekends over the past few weeks. Now that the team has began to jell and the results are becoming more positive, Skinner says the sky is the limit for the No. 31 Lowe's Home Improvement Chevrolet team. "We've proven that we can run up front, and we almost pulled one off (on Sunday)," Skinner said. "We're clicking right now, and I think things will only get better for us. One of these days soon we're going to surprise some people and end up in Victory Lane."
Source: NASCAR Online