Nowhere To Go But Up

Judging by last season’s performance, there’s no way of getting around it. The Morgan-McClure Motorsports NASCAR Winston Cup Series team has a lot of work to do.

The 2000 season saw the No. 4 Kodak Chevrolet team, with Bobby Hamilton behind the wheel, finish 31st in the Winston Cup points standings, the worst showing for the Morgan-McClure organization in the past decade-plus. It managed only two top-10 finishes and struggled with a whopping 11 DNFs, prompting changes to be made.

Enter Robby Gordon, who was announced as the team’s driver for 2001 during the final weekend of the 2000 campaign at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Enter veteran David Ifft, who took over as crew chief for the team in the final few weeks of the season.

Hamilton and the team finished 10th and 13th in the points standings the previous two years, but all kinds of misfortune befell the No. 4 Kodak Chevrolet team in 2000. Blown engines, accidents, you name it, it happened to them.

“We never quit fighting,” team owner Larry McClure says. “Each week we had to struggle from a 40th-place starting position up to 15th or so. So many little things happened that can’t be accounted for. However, all of those little problems really made this team dig deeper. Robby will be able to reap the rewards of that.

“We still have a mountain to climb. We’re competing against the best in the world. This team has to get back on top of the game. I realize that. My main priority is to position ourselves in the points so we don’t have to worry about making races. It’s going to be tougher now with only one round of qualifying.

“It seems each year the competition gets keener. People gain more money from sponsors. These multicar teams are able to buy speed now. In the past, we had to make speed. Now, it can be bought. Being aware of this, we have stepped up our program a notch.”

In the past, the Morgan-McClure team has been able to run up near the front of the pack as a single-car operation. Hamilton won a race in 1998, while Sterling Marlin posted six victories for the team from 1994 to 1996.

In recent years, however, the Kodak team has been passed by, or even blown away, by the likes of Robert Yates Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Racing, Penske Racing and Richard Childress Racing – all multicar operations.

After much speculation as to who would drive the No. 4 car next season, McClure chose Gordon, who struggled with his own team in the Winston Cup Series in 2000.

In two full seasons in Winston Cup (the other was 1997), Gordon has gotten a rude awakening, but thinks this is the combination that will finally vault him to respectability at NASCAR’s highest level.

“This series is tough,” Gordon says. “I have learned the hard way. It’s not going to be easy, but if we work hard together and keep our minds straight, we will get there. We will reach our goals and we will win races.”

The former open-wheel standout says he and Ifft, who has worked with the likes of Darrell Waltrip, Buddy Baker, Robbie Moroso and others during his tenure as a Winston Cup crew chief, have already developed a good rapport.

“David can definitely teach me some things,” Gordon says. “I can teach him a few things, too. We will be good together. He knows how to race Winston Cup. He knows what it takes to run 500 miles and finish a race. David is pretty technical. The more time we spend together, and the more things we do together, will help us build a playbook.”

“David Ifft is one of the best crew chiefs I’ve ever had,” McClure says. “He has a charisma that rubs off on people. All of the guys at the shop have rallied around him. He’s organized. I believe he’ll be a good coach for Robby.

“Coming off the worst season Morgan-McClure has seen, it’s a pleasure to see how these changes have improved work habits and attitudes. Confidence has been a problem and all of this has been a booster.”

The team recently visited Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway, a popular short track for Winston Cup testing. Both McClure and Gordon were happy with what they saw.

“Our test session went really well,” McClure says. “I’m excited about the prospects of the 2001 season and beyond. The entire team is excited. We feel like we have the capabilities for much success.”

“I’m pleased with the results of the test,” Gordon says. “The car and motor were awesome. I’m not accustomed to running a motor with that much horsepower.”

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