Lepage Out Hamilton Jr. In

Bobby Hamilton Jr. has replaced Kevin Lepage in the No. 4 Morgan-McClure Chevrolet, effective immediately, the team announced Monday night.

Hamilton Jr. will be in the car this weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C., for the UAW-GM Quality 500. He’ll drive seven of the eight remaining NASCAR Winston Cup races, except the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on Oct. 14, when he has a Busch Series conflict at Memphis Motorsports Park.

Rich Bickle, who was recently released as the driver of the No. 59 Chevy in the Busch Series, will drive the No. 4 Chevy at Martinsville next weekend.

Lepage wanted to remain in the car, but team owner Larry McClure decided to make the change now so the team could prepare for the 2002 season. It was announced Tuesday that Mike Skinner was hired to drive the No. 4 Chevy for the next three years, beginning in 2002.

Published reports had it that a contract had been signed between the team and Skinner prior to Tuesday, but a team source said that was erroneous.

Skinner recently stepped out of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing car to have surgery on his knee. He is due to have the surgery Wednesday.

Hamilton Jr. follows in the footsteps of his dad, who drove for Morgan-McClure for three years. Bobby Hamilton left the ride after the 2000 season for Andy Petree Racing and was replaced by Robby Gordon.

That union lasted five races before McClure fired Gordon. Lepage, who won the pole for the Mr. Goodcents 300 Busch Series race in his own car last weekend at Kansas Speedway, joined the team but struggled, prompting the team to announce recently he wouldn’t be back for 2002. McClure has insisted the team isn’t at fault for the struggles, but the numbers don’t back him up.

Morgan-McClure hasn’t won since 1998, when Hamilton Sr. scored a surprising victory at Martinsville. Over the last three seasons, the team has only one top-five finish.

Hamilton Jr. will be the fourth driver in less than a year with the team. Skinner will be the fifth in a span of 17 months.

“I really do not know what happened between Larry and the other driver (Lepage),” Hamilton Jr. said. “It is an opportunity for me to get into the No. 4 car. I can get seat time in Winston Cup. Larry and Morgan-McClure have helped me so much in ARCA. They let me borrow parts and loaned out engines to me. I am glad to step in and help Larry and the guys out.”

Hamilton Jr. has struggled in the Busch Series this year with Carroll Racing. He’s 16th in the points standings with two top-fives and five top-10s. He substituted for the injured Joe Nemechek in Winston Cup earlier this year, making three starts in the No. 33 Chevy with a best finish of 24th.

“This will turn out to be a win-win situation for everyone involved,” Hamilton Jr. said. “Not only will I gain experience in Winston Cup, I will accumulate more time on the tracks I race the No. 26 car on. Last year I practiced at Homestead in a Cup car, got out of it and went and sat on the pole in the Busch car. It really helps to be able gain knowledge from both divisions.

“We are hoping to put together a few good runs for the Kodak team. It is a great opportunity and we want to make the most of it.”

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