Hamlin has calming influence His technical skills have helped Earnhardt this season
August 12, 1999 - By Mike Mulhern, JOURNAL REPORTER
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. If NASCAR had an award for most laid-back crew chief, Kevin Hamlin
would win it hands down.
Not since Kirk Shelmerdine ran things at Richard Childress' shop has there been someone as
unflappable as Hamlin. Dale Earnhardt, his driver, certainly seems to like Hamlin's style.
And Hamlin's technical skills seem pretty solid.
So after a rough couple of seasons, Earnhardt seems once again comfortable with things.
Hamlin has been giving him a top-eight car the past few months, one of the top two
Chevrolets -- a model which is at an aerodynamic disadvantage to Pontiacs and Fords. Over
the next few weeks, they'd like to step it up a little.
And next year? Well, Earnhardt is even talking championship again.
Hamlin doesn't think that is out of the question, particularly with the aerodynamic
changes coming for all three makes for the 2000 Winston Cup tour.
''You can do all the ifs and whats and buts you want, but if you look back at the
beginning of the year, at Atlanta and Rockingham, and if we had just a handful of those
points back, we'd be up there closer, to battle with the cars for second place at least,''
Hamlin said. ''Dale Jarrett, though, does have a pretty commanding jump on everybody.
''There is certainly a good amount of luck in this deal. Jeff Gordon hasn't been as lucky
as he has in the past. Performance-wise, the Monte Carlo is hurting, to be quite truthful.
And hitting that tire at Indy, well, that was as much my fault as Dale's because I'm
supposed to help talk him out of the pits.
''When I saw Jeff Burton's crew jump over to do left side tires, I figured they were
changing four tires and there'd be no problem getting out around him. I turned around to
try to guide Dale out of the pits, and I had no idea Burton wouldn't be in his pit anymore
and that there'd be two tires sitting out there in front of us. Hitting that tire cost us
some performance, probably at least four spots.''
''We've built a brand new car for this track, with aerodynamics and less weight, to get it
down a bit lower. We're hoping it will be a good piece. Mike Skinner took two cars here,
and this was one of them. It seemed like it was pretty decent, but he got off the concrete
and tore it up a little bit. We're hopeful we got it back good.
''We're fortunate that Mike got to test, and he could relate some information to us about
the concrete and asphalt. He had some positive things to say about it. It wasn't all
negative. But if they'd put more concrete down, to where you could get two cars side by
side on the concrete it could be a whole lot better race.''
HAMLIN HAS BEEN on the job with Earnhardt just over a year and has gained Earnhardt's
confidence, which is not easy to do.
''We're supposed to teach each other things,'' Hamlin said. ''It's a two-part deal. He
comes in and tells me things about the superspeedways that I've never heard other drivers
tell me. I've always wondered about this or that, and had my own theories.
''We went to Daytona this year and tested and I won't tell you exactly what he said, but
when I heard him say that, I went 'Wow! That's what I've always thought, but no driver has
gotten out of that car and told me that. Dang! That's cool.'
''At Indianapolis Dale got out of the car Friday afternoon and said 'We're close, but I
think the car is going to go to the tight side.' So we kicked a few things around, and I
said 'OK, I've got something of a plan, and I'll sleep on it, and we'll get together in
''And then he gets in that IROC car, and it handles terrible, it's so loose. And I don't
get a chance to talk with Dale again that day, so I'm kind of panicked, because we don't
want to get our car to where it's driving that bad.
''There is a real fine line between being too tight and being too free. And the line keeps
shrinking. It's about as thin as piece of fishing line right now. You get on either side
of that deal, and it'll cost you time. It's just a matter of which side costs you more
time. And each track has its little quirks like that.
''But we are starting to understand that a little better. If you give it time, it will get
These next two races could be telling. Earnhardt's road-course work is sometimes great,
sometimes mediocre, usually unpredictable. And Michigan, next week's stop, is typically
one of his toughest tracks. If the team can get through these two, they'll head to some of
Earnhardt's best tracks.
And then there is the burnout factor. At this point of the season more than six months
into the tour, with more than three months still to run, crews are facing a run of 12
races in a row.
''What people don't realize is it's not just this 12-week stretch, it all starts back at
Daytona,'' Hamlin said. ''You do get a day off here and a day off there, maybe a weekend
off. But even when we have weekends off, we sometimes have to spend 'em working.
''Still, this 12-week thing, if things go your way and you don't tear things up, I don't
think it's really as bad as what some people make it out to be.''
At least not when things are getting steadily better, as Hamlin and Earnhardt both see.
BUT THERE IS more on their plate this month than the Winston Cup races. Hamlin is also
deep into work on the new Monte Carlo, with Daytona testing probably only a few weeks away
and a major test at Gateway in St. Louis looming.
''We're hoping the new Monte Carlo will be real competitive,'' Hamlin said. ''When we
started this program last year with the Monte Carlo, we thought we were going to be able
to race it this year, in May at Charlotte. So we did a test the end of last year at
Homestead, and played around with a lot of different things, and it seemed like it was
going to be a really good car.
''Of course, we didn't get to test it in traffic, and traffic is the tell-tale of
everything. When you get it around other cars, that's when we'll really know what we have,
and we haven't done that yet.
''And then NASCAR has sort of twisted the thing around a little and actually hurt the car
some (with new templates), so we're not quite sure what we have anymore.''
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