Texas A Start For Skinner

To steal a line from former Chicago Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray, they’re dancing in the streets of Abingdon, Va.

Well, OK, a 12th-place finish might not warrant a big party at the Morgan-McClure Motorsports shops in the southwest corner of Virginia. But if you’re Mike Skinner, you’ll take a 12th and go home smiling.

That’s exactly what he did Monday afternoon after leaving Texas Motor Speedway, the dried-out track where Skinner finished 12th in the Samsung/RadioShack 500.

No, a 12th-place finish isn’t going to make the big boys in NASCAR Winston Cup racing shudder in their driving shoes. But it might be a kick in the … pants for the No. 4 Chevy team.

You see, Skinner hasn’t seen much of the Top 12 in 2002, his first with Morgan-McClure. Heck, he hasn’t seen much of the Top 20. Yes, he’s made all the races this season, but about the only times you saw him was when he was getting lapped.

Then comes Texas. The weekend didn’t start well, for Skinner needed a provisional – his first of the season – to start 41st. But in the race, Skinner was humming. He was no match for Matt Kenseth, Dale Jarrett or the guys who were running up front, but finishing 12th is a whole lot better than finishing where he had been finishing.

“This is a start,” Skinner said. Maybe we should not practice anymore. We picked up 29 positions. (Crew chief) Scott (Eggleston) and those guys threw a setup at the thing.”

Whatever they threw at it worked, and worked for the first time this year. Before Texas, Skinner hadn’t finished higher than 20th. Yes, he was finishing races – expect for a blown engine at Rockingham – but he wasn’t finishing on the lead lap. Texas was the first time all year Skinner had completed the full distance.

It didn’t look like he’d be able to at the start of the 334-lap race. The setup that was thrown on the car wasn’t working that great.

“I thought it was terrible at the start of the race,” Skinner said. “The car was really, really loose. I knew the racetrack was going to be loose, and we didn’t compensate for it. The car was loose all day, but good on the exits. We were beating a lot of cars from the center out. We got two sets of tires that were bad right there at the end. We just held on.

“We needed a decent finish. We need to start picking up in the points. I just kept the fenders on it and hoped for a decent finish. We took what we could get.”

And that’s a start. Skinner figured at the start of the season it might take some time for the team to mesh, but perhaps Texas is a sign of things to come.

“Any momentum is good,” Skinner said. “Going into Martinsville next week will be great.”

Skinner has performed reasonably well there, posting three top-10 finishes in the last five races. In the second race of 1999, Skinner led 138 laps before finishing sixth. And the Morgan-McClure team has done well, too, with Bobby Hamilton winning from the pole and lead 378 laps in the first race four years ago.

“We had a good test at Martinsville,” team owner Larry McClure said. “I am looking forward to running there. If we can keep the fenders on it all day, we should have a decent day there. The finish can pump up Mike Skinner and this team. It’s what we need.”

A few more finishes like Texas – or maybe even some higher, could move Skinner up the points standings. He went from 31st to 26th at Texas.

“We chased it all day,” Eggleston said. “We were not the worst car here or the best. We will take the finish for the day and go on to Martinsville. We need solid finishes each week.”

And maybe they will indeed be dancing in the streets of Abingdon, Va.

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