Skinner Searching For First Win

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In the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, consistency and superior chemistry between driver, crew chief and team are the cornerstones of every successful team.

For Mike Skinner, driver of the No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, getting to victory lane has been a struggle to say the least. With a season marred by inconsistency and lost chances, Skinner remains focused and confident about the task at hand.

Undoubtedly, the strength of Skinner's team remains in its ability to finish races. After 19 events, Team Lowe's has yet to record any DNFs. The season's highlight for the Lowe's team has been a second-place run at Talladega in April. After finishing seventh at Pocono, Skinner is 11th in series points, 232 out of 10th and 321 out of 5th.

"I think, at times, we've performed better than the results show. We seem to fall into slumps, and if you look at a chart of our finishes, it's either top 10 or 20th .We need to get more consistent to where, if we have a bad run, it's 12th or 14th instead of 25th or 30th and if we have a good run, it's in the top five. I think the inconsistency is what's hurt us the most. It's either feast or famine," Skinner said.

"We need to work on that consistency and not try so hard to win as much as getting a good finish. I think we've finished 20th a few times that we could have finished eighth or ninth if we wouldn't have just worked ourselves plum out of the ballpark."

However, Skinner has several key components in place, namely crew chief Larry McReynolds and the 1998 Union 76 World Pit Crew Champions handling the duties on pit road.

Skinner knows the value of good communication between driver and crew chief and appreciates the relationship between himself and McReynolds.

"We've really worked hard at getting the communication strong between the two of us and it's like any relationship, it goes up and down. But, we're always working hard at trying to make it better. We're always working on reading each other's minds and trying to figure out how to get into each other's head," said Skinner.

In NASCAR the race on pit road is just as important as the race on the track. In the new era of Winston Cup racing many races have been won and lost in the pits. Skinner knows when he heads down pit road for service he has one of the best teams in the business waiting for him.

"Our pit crew is awesome,” he said. “They're probably way underrated. A lot of times our pit stops aren't as fast because we're making adjustments to the car, trying to make it better. If we can ever get our act together on the car, so we're not making so many adjustments during a pit stop, I think the pit crew will be like cream. it will come to the top."

After struggling for a win over the last few years, when most teams would consider making a change, Skinner's team remains intact and his contract runs through 2002. After winning both NASCAR exhibition races in Japan in 1997 and 1998 it looked like Skinner was on the fast track to the winner's circle.

But, Skinner knew that winning a Winston Cup race might not come as easily or as quickly as his wins in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series or his win in the Busch Series. After all, it took Mark Martin 112 starts to win his first race and Ricky Rudd struggled for eight years before winning his first race, driving for Richard Childress in 1983.

"From everybody I've talked to, getting that first win makes the others come easier. I know Mark (Martin) had a tough time winning his first one. For some, it's like a win just falls into their lap and for others, it's like they just never get it and may never get it," said Skinner who won the 1997 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year.

"For us, I have a lot of confidence that we're going to win a lot of races in Winston Cup and I'm not going to focus so much on that right now as I am about staying consistent. If we can get some consistency back in this Lowe's team, the wins will come."

Ever since the 1995 Craftsman Truck Series champion took the wheel of the No. 31 his goals have remained constant, to finish in the top-ten in series points and to win a points-paying race.

"My goals really haven't changed. I still want to finish in the top 10 in Winston Cup points and win a point's race. It's not looking great to do either one of those so we've got to work and dig deep and stay focused so we can get both accomplished by the end of the year," Skinner said.

"We've proven in the past that we are a second-half-of-the-season team so I 'm not throwing in the towel by any means. We're just going to stay working on it and keep a good attitude. If we can do that and win a race, no matter where the points stack up, it will be a good season for us."

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