Park strengthens hold on Cup
July 26, 1999 - By Mike Mulhern, JOURNAL REPORTER
LONG POND, Pa. - Ty Norris, who heads Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s racing operations, insists any
questions about Steve Park's future are misdirected -- and Park's strong run in
yesterday's Pennsylvania 500 would seem to back that up.
Park led late for six laps and finished eighth in his best run since Charlotte.
Although he has only 41 tour starts under his belt, Park has been under a lot of pressure
because he's in such a high-profile ride.
''We had such a good month at Charlotte, and things were looking great, and then we go to
Sonoma and flip a car over, and it looked like it was just downhill from there,'' Park
said. ''We've got a great race team here and we need to perform. That's what we did today.
We had about an 18th-place car, but Paul Andrews and the guys had good pit stops and
called a good race and got us a good finish. It's great to be competitive. It's great to
run up front with those guys.
''We've only been around a year-and-a-half, and this team has only been around a
year-and-a-half, but this team has a Dale Earnhardt label. Me and Dale talk all the time,
and this team is just starting to get to the point where we can run like this week-in,
week-out. We just need to run consistently in the top 10, and not have a good run and then
a bad run. When we can do that, we can start looking toward a top five and a win. And I
think that's right around the corner.''
Park -- with Paul Andrews as crew chief, Steve Hmiel as technical advisor and Earnhardt as
the deep-pockets backer -- has an enviable Winston Cup ride, even with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
as his new Winston Cup teammate, with all the hoopla baggage that it entails. So the
question is how long a learning curve will Park be allowed? Last season and already twice
this season, there have been reports that Park has been told to step it up, the latest
coming in the wake of Park's crash at Indianapolis while testing for the Brickyard 400.
''It sounds like a broken record,'' Norris said. ''Nobody has laid down any kind of time
period for Steve Park. Nobody.
''There are 48 teams here and 44 are frustrated, and we have to throw ourselves into that
category from our performances. But the easiest thing in the world to do is to look at the
driver. But we are looking at the organization. That's why we keep trying to improve the
personnel, to help the organization get stronger, because we have to be able to give Steve
the best race cars and the best engines and the best people available. Until we do that,
you can't judge him.
''The only thing we want to see is consistency in everything. And there are a number of
things that have happened this year that have nothing to do with the driver. We've had
parts break, engines break, things happened that had nothing to do with who was sitting in
the car, whether it was Dale Earnhardt in there or Steve Park. That's why we have to make
the organization stronger.
''A lot of people want to look at this deal because it's a high-profile organization and
cast stones at it, but we are only 18 months old. We've only been in our shop a year and
two or three months. We just opened it up to the public two months ago. We're not Hendrick
Motorsports, and we're not Roush Racing and we're not Joe Gibbs Racing, because we haven't
been around 10, 12 or 15 years. We are not an extension of Richard Childress Racing. We're
on our own. So let the organization mature a little bit before we start casting stones at
any part of it.''
Yet there is such pressure to perform that newcomers aren't given much time to get up to
''I remember when we finished sixth at Michigan they were all saying Steve Park was
showing what he could do, and that was just a month ago,'' Norris said. ''But I guess
you're only as good as your last race, and the last two or three races we haven't been
What happened at Indianapolis? ''We got loose coming off the corner, spun out and hit both
sides in the wall, outside and inside,'' Norris said.
So no ultimatums have been issued? ''We have meetings every week,'' Norris said. ''It's
not like it's new. We have meetings with the driver, we have meetings with the motor guys,
we have managers meetings, we have fab shop meetings every morning at 7:30. If we sit down
and talk and issues come up, that's not like we called some special wake-up meeting.''
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