Originally created 07/24/99

Skinner to prime up fickle racecar



LONG POND, Pa. -- The car sitting in the corner at Richard Childress Racing had been collecting dust for more than two months when driver Mike Skinner decided to give the ill-handling Chevrolet one more chance.

His Lowe's team dusted off the Monte Carlo, which raced last May at Charlotte, N.C., and brought the racer to a race track Friday that was just as fickle -- the Pocono Raceway. The mix proved successful as Skinner won the pole for the Pennsylvania 500 with a lap of 170.451 mph.

"That was a brand new race car that drove well when it was out front, but it really drove bad when it was in traffic," Skinner said after winning his first pole position since the 1997 Pepsi 400 at the Daytona International Speedway. "It's been sitting in the corner ever since, and we decided we've got to run the car somewhere and get it figured out.

"Now we're thinking about taking it to Indianapolis (for the Brickyard 400 on Aug. 7). All of a sudden, it's a pretty good car."

It wasn't always like that on the 2.5-mile, triangle-shaped raceway. During early practice sessions, Skinner had trouble getting the car up to speed in the third turn.

But minutes before time trials started, crew chief Larry McReynolds made wholesale changes on the car that worked.

"Normally, I get through (Turn) One without any problems, and I really struggle in Three," Skinner said. "When I went through One during qualifying, I hit the gas, and it started to slide up the raceway. I got real close to the wall, but I didn't hit it. Then when I got to (Turn) Three, lifted off the gas just a little, and the car was stable. So I punched the throttle, and it was perfect all the way through the turn. I made up most of my time in Turn Three.

"I had to trust everything Larry did to the car. I had no choice. We made a bunch of changes, and I had confidence that Larry would figure something out. You've almost got to wreck to have a good lap in Winston Cup qualifying. It's that close."

What makes Pocono so challenging are its three unique turns. The first is a hairpin with slight banking, the second has an easier angle and higher banking, and the third is a flat, sweeping corner that's more familiar to road-course racing.

Skinner will be flanked by his neighbor Mark Martin on the front row for Sunday's (1 p.m., TBS) main event. Both Skinner and Martin live in a fly-in community near Daytona Beach, Fla.

Martin, who is recovering from knee surgery, a broken rib cage and wrist fracture from an accident suffered July 2 at Daytona Beach, was clocked at 170.078 mph.

"I feel great in the car," Martin said. "I don't have the pain now as far as driving the car. I'm comfortable in the race car. I can give them everything I have."

Third-fastest was Ken Schrader's Chevrolet at 169.933 mph, followed by Bobby Labonte's Pontiac in fourth at 169.827, John Andretti's Pontiac in fifth at 169.786, Wally Dallenbach's Chevrolet in sixth at 169.527, Jeff Gordon's Chevrolet in seventh at 169.517, Ward Burton's Pontiac in eighth at 169.453, Sterling Marlin's Chevrolet in ninth at 169.399 and Dale Earnhardt's Chevrolet in 10th at 169.103.

Current Winston Cup points leader Dale Jarrett qualified 15th at 168.868 mph.

Skinner was one of the first cars to qualify in the two-hour session, and the wait after his fast lap was the most difficult part of the afternoon.

He watched several cars run through time trials from atop his team's transporter. Then he went to his motorhome and took a shower. He watched television, then returned to the garage area for the final 30 minutes of the session.

"The nervousness never stopped until the last car was done," Skinner said. "I didn't want to be negative, but I didn't feel in my heart the lap was going to be good enough. I seemed like we kept dodging bullets, dodging bullets, dodging bullets. It was nerve-wracking."

Friday's session locked in the top 25 starting spots for Sunday's race. Those who failed the first-round cut can either requalify today or stand on their first-round speed.

Those who face that decision include Bobby Hamilton in 27th (167.713 mph), Steve Park in 30th (167.498), Ricky Rudd in 33rd (167.445), Bill Elliott in 35th (167.243), Darrell Waltrip in 36th (167.199), Kyle Petty in 40th (166.399) and Geoffrey Bodine in 42nd (166.312).