BUSCH: Mike McLaughlin Not Perfect, But Solid

McLaughlin not perfect, but solid By Shawn A. Akers BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Jan. 7, 1999) Mike McLaughlin knows that, if he is ever to win a NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division championship, it's going to take an almost perfect season...

McLaughlin not perfect, but solid By Shawn A. Akers

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Jan. 7, 1999) Mike McLaughlin knows that, if he is ever to win a NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division championship, it's going to take an almost perfect season from him and his No. 34 Goulds Pumps Chevrolet team. McLaughlin and his team were far from perfect in 1998, but then they weren't too shabby, either. A pair of wins, to go along with 11 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in 31 starts, earned McLaughlin his fourth consecutive appearance on stage at the NASCAR Busch Series Awards Banquet, which will be held on Friday night at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The Waterloo, N.Y., native finished third in the standings behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth, both of whom enjoyed incredible seasons in their first full years on the circuit. McLaughlin tried to keep pace with both youngsters and, in fact, actually held the point lead at one point during the early part of the summer. With his seven victories in 1998, however, Earnhardt Jr., proved to be too much in the end and won his first series crown. "We had an awesome year, and it has been a lot of fun," McLaughlin said following the season finale at Homestead in November. "We got a couple of more wins under our belt, which was really great because that's what it's all about, winning races. "Yeah, we're disappointed that we couldn't have made a better run at the championship, but those guys in front of us (Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth) both just had great teams that had awesome years. It would have taken an awful lot more from us to beat them. It's not easy to win a championship in this division." Indeed. McLaughlin realized that from the start of the season, when he finished out of the top-15 in three of the first four races of the year, including a disappointing 27th-place finish at Las Vegas. After a rainout the following week at Atlanta, things didn't look much better at Nashville, where McLaughlin wrecked his primary car in practice. McLaughlin's fortunes turned, however. After starting the BellSouth Mobility/Opryland 320 from the 21st spot in his backup car, McLaughlin patiently waded his way through the field, took the lead from Robert Pressley with seven laps to go, and earned his first win of the season and fourth of his series career. The next few weeks were steady for the No. 34 Chevrolet team, if unspectacular. McLaughlin recorded seven top-10 finishes in the following nine races, including third-place runs at both Talladega and Nazareth. Consecutive mediocre runs at Richmond (34th) and Pikes Peak (20th), however, cost McLaughlin valuable points in the chase for the championship. He recovered with four top-six runs in the next five races, but it soon thereafter became apparent of Earnhardt Jr.'s destiny to win the crown. A fourth-place finish at Dover was a prelude for the following event at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October. In what proved to be one of the more daring moves of the season, McLaughlin's Cicci-Welliver Racing team took a gamble on fuel mileage in the All Pro Bumper to Bumper 300, and McLaughlin pulled off what he deemed as the biggest victory of his career. He led the final 22 laps to take the checkered flag, running almost on fumes on the cool down lap. "I don't know, I'll have to ask 'em later," McLaughlin said when asked about the amount of fuel he had left. "They did a good job. They went for the fuel mileage. We had a decent car, but I owe this to this whole crew. They won me the race. "With 15 laps to go, I was on three-quarter throttle. I wasn't sure if I could make it or not, but we pulled it off. This is pretty special, winning here at Charlotte. Watkins Glen is my home track and it was pretty awesome to win there, too, but this is the most prestigious race I've ever won." While McLaughlin finished the season in mediocre fashion (29th at Atlanta and 18th at Homestead), he was still able to maintain a good margin on fourth-place Randy LaJoie in the standings. And now, he said, he knows just how high the bar has been raised for him and his team to achieve their elusive championship. McLaughlin will have a pair of new teammates to work with next season at Cicci-Welliver Racing. Todd Bodine and Tim Fedewa will try to help the team's search for a title. "I'm ready to go back at it," said McLaughlin, who got married in the offseason. "We know we've got a lot of work to do, and we know what we have to shoot for. Those guys (Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth) are going to be the guys to beat again. We're just going to have to work a lot harder to get past 'em."

Source: NASCAR Online

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Drivers Matt Kenseth , Todd Bodine , Mike McLaughlin