Park looks to broaden horizons
By Dave Rodman - NASCAR Online - RICHMOND, Va. (May 11, 1999)
Steve Park's NASCAR Winston Cup Series career has taken
a couple jolts in its short existence, but through it all the native of East Northport,
N.Y., has maintained an even keel.
On Monday, crew chief Philippe Lopez resigned
his position, and Dale Earnhardt Inc., technical director Steve Hmiel was named as his
successor until a replacement could be hired. That apparently will not be a quick
decision, and Park is not sorry to have an extended time to work with Hmiel.
They'll start in this weekend's Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway
and it's appropriate that the veteran will join the sophomore Park, since the team was off
when it ran at the ¾-mile speedway last fall.
"I've been working with Steve since he started working with us at DEI, and the
relationship is pretty good," Park said. "Moving him from technical director to
a more hands-on approach is what we need to do until we can fill the void (left by Lopez's
Hmiel was one of the original employees of Roush Racing, and worked there until Roush
released him last year. Hmiel previously worked for Petty Enterprises and Hagan Racing,
among others, and has 15 NASCAR Winston Cup Series victories as a crew chief.
"The biggest plus he brings is experience," said Park, who won the Raybestos
Rookie of the Year title in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division in 1997 before
moving to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and DEI's No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet. "It's a
new young team and he's a guy who's been racing for 20 or 25 years. He brings a lot of
experience to the table that will help a young team."
Park sees Hmiel as the possible glue that will consolidate a potentially solid race team
into a consistent contender.
"What the team needs most right now is chemistry," Park said. "We've got
good people in good positions -- it just hasn't seemed to work together properly and
that's why they decided to make a change and reorganize the people we have -- shake up the
chemistry and make it more effective week-in and week-out."
Park's 1999 season, which is shaping up to be his first complete campaign in NASCAR's
premier series, has been a disappointment to the former standout in the Featherlite
Modified Series, NASCAR Touring. His best finish through 10 races has been 12th, at the
familiar Martinsville Speedway.
He doesn't see the pressure lessening any now, with one of the critical elements to the
team's performance changed.
"The pressure has been on me in the past, so that's nothing new," he said.
"We're sitting 29th or something in the points, but I feel we're capable of running
in the top-10, consistently. I've had pressure in the past to have good performances, but
there's been a lot of things go wrong beyond my control.
"The first step was trying to improve the chemistry of the team to make us improve
week-in and week-out."
Once they accomplish that goal, Park says it's reasonable to expect they can come back to
beyond their high water mark this season, which was in the top-25 in the point standings.
"Realistically, we'd like to be in the top-20 in the points at the end of the year,
and we feel that's not an unrealistic goal," he said. "It's real close in the
points from 20th to where we're sitting. We were 25th and we fell out of a couple races
for mechanical reasons. We're looking for a couple good finishes."