Skinner gets lift, pole at Pocono

Driver's crew chief signs on for 3 years

July 24, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

LONG POND, Pa. -- It's supposed to be a sport that has its heart centered in mechanical expertise -- the engine power, the aerodynamics of the car design that set the driver up for a great performance.

But yesterday, here at Pocono International Raceway, there was a little demonstration about the emotions of the game.

In the morning, crew chief Larry McReynolds announced an end to his efforts to start his own race team. And he said he has signed on for another three years with car owner Richard Childress and driver Mike Skinner.

In the late afternoon, Skinner responded by going out and putting his Chevrolet on the pole for tomorrow's $2.2 million Pennsylvania 500.

He averaged a race-qualifying record of 170.451 mph to win his first pole of the season, and only the third of his career.

"Did Larry's announcement make a difference?" Skinner said, repeating the question. "Absolutely. It's like personal problems in anyone's life and profession. You're on the job and you think, `Man, I can focus on my job.' But when you have a problem somewhere else, it affects your job no matter how much you try to flick that switch and say it doesn't. When Larry said what he did this morning, we got our backbone back."

A year ago, just about this time, Childress flipped his crew chiefs, sending Kevin Hamlin to work with Dale Earnhardt and McReynolds to work with Skinner. The move almost immediately improved the performance of both teams. And McReynolds and Skinner started this season with great promise.

At the Daytona 500 in February, they finished fourth and went on a four-race run of alternating top-five and top-10 finishes. Then McReynolds announced that he was going to work at forming his own team and leave the Childress operation at the end of the season.

Since then, the team's average finish has been 20th and its qualifying efforts not much better. This is Skinner's first top-five effort in the past 13 races.

"Larry probably handled the situation better than any of us," said Skinner. "He did not take any of his focus away from working with our team. But I think the race team might have lost a little bit, kind of being uncertain. I think maybe I did. I don't really know how or when or where, but it happened."

Starting on the outside of Skinner tomorrow will be Mark Martin. The Ford driver, who is still recovering from rib, wrist and knee fractures, clocked 170.078 mph. It is the ninth time in 10 tries that Martin will start in the top 10 at this track, where he has never won.

And yesterday, Martin, too, said emotion played as much a part in his qualifying run as it did in Skinner's.

"You might not expect to hear that from me," said Martin. "I'm a pretty practical guy. You might not expect me to give much credit to emotion. I do believe you can't measure the impact events have on a performance, but even I will admit such impact exists.

"I'm sure it did with Mike, and I know it did the same for me. We had a better run this time than we did in June, and I'm sitting here, my wrist in a cast and my knee still far away from being able to press the 600 pounds I used to -- I can press zero today. But because of how the car ran earlier today, I believed in my heart that we had a shot at the pole and I went for it."

Martin paused. Smiled.

"Emotions could have had a lot to do with what we did," he said.

Kenny Schrader qualified his Chevrolet third at 169.933 mph and last month's Pocono 500 winner, Bobby Labonte, will start fourth after a run of 169.827.

Winston Cup points leader Dale Jarrett will start 15th and his top challenger, Jeff Burton, 18th.

Skinner said his car will be in its first Winston Cup race, but his chance at victory may still be better than Labonte's. Skinner has emotion going for him and he also has history on his side.

In the 17 years the Winston Cup series has raced twice here, only three drivers have won the June race and come back to win in July. Bobby Allison did it in 1982, the inaugural season, Bill Elliott in 1985 and the late Tim Richmond in 1986.

Qualifying

1. (31) Mike Skinner, Chevrolet, 170.451.

2. (6) Mark Martin, Ford, 170.078.

3. (33) Ken Schrader, Chevrolet, 169.933.

4. (18) Bobby Labonte, Pontiac, 169.827.

5. (43) John Andretti, Pontiac, 169.786.

6. (25) Wally Dallenbach, Chevrolet, 169.527.

7. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 169.517.

8. (22) Ward Burton, Pontiac, 169.453.

9. (40) Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet, 169.444.

10. (42) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 169.399.

11. (3) Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 169.103.

12. (20) Tony Stewart, Pontiac, 169.074.

13. (45) Rich Bickle, Pontiac, 169.059.

14. (5) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet, 168.909.

15. (88) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 168.868.

16. (7) Michael Waltrip, Chevrolet, 168.792.

17. (2) Rusty Wallace, Ford, 168.789.

18. (99) Jeff Burton, Ford, 168.761.

19. (28) Kenny Irwin, Ford, 168.615.

20. (12) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford, 168.574.

21. (23) Jimmy Spencer, Ford, 168.391.

22. (98) Rick Mast, Ford, 168.391.

23. (75) Ted Musgrave, Ford, 168.312.

24. (36) Ernie Irvan, Pontiac, 167.832.

25. (71) Dave Marcis, Chevrolet, 167.798.

Failed to qualify

26. (11) Brett Bodine, Ford, 167.754.

27. (4) Bobby Hamilton, Chevrolet, 167.713.

28. (55) Kenny Wallace, Chevrolet, 167.638.

29. (58) Hut Stricklin, Ford, 167.576.

30. (1) Steve Park, Chevrolet, 167.498.

31. (77) Robert Pressley, Ford, 167.485.

32. (26) Johnny Benson, Ford, 167.473.

33. (10) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 167.445.

34. (41) David Green, Chevrolet, 167.355.

35. (94) Bill Elliott, Ford, 167.243.

36. (66) Darrell Waltrip, Ford, 167.199.

37. (9) Jerry Nadeau, Ford, 166.855.

38. (30) Derrike Cope, Pontiac, 166.846.

39. (21) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 166.651.

40. (44) Kyle Petty, Pontiac, 166.399.

41. (90) Stanton Barrett, Ford, 166.359.

42. (60) Geoffrey Bodine, Chevrolet, 166.312.

43. (16) Kevin Lepage, Ford, 166.306.

44. (97) Chad Little, Ford, 165.767.

45. (91) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, 165.551.

Pub Date: 7/24/99

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