Second A Sign For Skinner?

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The 2002 season has been a rebuilding year for Mike Skinner and the Morgan-McClure Motorsports team. Not surprisingly, things have been difficult. You don’t just simply decide to run well and then go do it.

Skinner knew the season might be a struggle, but he probably never figured to be without a top-10 finish halfway through the season.

That’s exactly the scenario, however. Skinner is 29th in the Winston Cup points standings, with a best finish of 12th, twice.

He moved to Morgan-McClure over the winter from Richard Childress Racing, where he went winless in inconsistent seasons. The adjustment has been tough, especially since the team is already on its second crew chief.

Plus, Skinner has had to come back from reconstructive knee surgery. Rebuilding? In more ways than one.

“I don’t think you have to learn everything from scratch,” Skinner said. “It takes some adjustments in personalities. The crew chief has to understand you, and you have to understand him. You have to get to know the sponsors and the PR people and everybody that’s involved. They play a major role in Winston Cup racing, and it’s a little different everywhere you go. I’d say it’s more of an adjustment period.

“In this case, it’s almost like we’re rebuilding a race team. The Morgan-McClure team was very strong a few years back. They won the Daytona 500. They won several races, and all of a sudden went into somewhat of a slump. So we’re kind of rebuilding things. Hopefully we can get the thing competitive again.”

Of course, he hoped the team would have been more competitive than it has through 18 races. Team owner Larry McClure has gone through his share of drivers recently, but the veteran Skinner has at least brought stability.

“I think that (McClure) felt like my aggressive driving style and my experience behind the wheel and giving feedback would help,” Skinner said. “When you’re putting several different drivers in the car, and nobody stays in it long enough to establish that relationship it’s easy to say that the motor won’t run or the car won’t turn. There are a lot of reasons why we’re not doing good. You become a professional at making excuses. Instead of making excuses, we need to try to find answers. That’s what our goal was when we started. I don’t know if we’ve been real good at that, but I think we’ve helped a bit.”

The answers have come a little easier this weekend at New Hampshire as Skinner qualified the No. 4 car second for Sunday’s New England 300. That’s the best start of the season for the team and only the second time it has started in the Top 10.

Qualifying has been a little better since Chris Carrier joined the team in May. After starting 20th or better four times in the first 11 races, Skinner has done it five times in the last eight.

So maybe Carrier is making an impact.

“The biggest adjustment – no matter what your job – is working with the people around you and finding out what makes them mad or what makes them satisfied or whatever,” Carrier said. “It’s the same thing here. You’ve got 50 or 60 employees for a single car team. That’s a lot of personalities. Each and every one of them is there for a reason. Each is a productive part of the machine. We all have to interact and communicate and be productive. We have to learn to work together and with the other people around us. … It takes a while for everybody to figure out all that stuff. I think we’ve done a good job of that. We’ve got good people at Morgan-McClure. We get along very well.

“I think we’re making headway. Mike and I worked together two years ago when I worked for Andy Petree’s race team and was crew chief for his Busch team, and Mike drove a handful of races. We kind of hit it off there. It seemed like we thought alike in what we needed to do to the race car to make it drive good for him, and that’s a plus.

“That’s a big key. We’ve multiplied that this year. We’re learning Winston Cup race cars together. We’re learning Morgan-McClure race cars and making changes to them. In the past three or four weeks, we both feel like we’ve found a lot of things we can do to our race cars that make him more comfortable in the cars and that drive better for him. That’s going to pay dividends down the road.”

Skinner is counting on that to run better the rest of the 2002 season.

“We started out with Scott Eggleston (as crew chief), and we got along fine,” Skinner said. “We just didn’t have great communication as far as the chassis goes on the car. He always wanted to run different stuff than what I was accustomed to running. I felt we needed to go back to what I was accustomed to in the No. 31 car at the places we were competitive. A lot of times we didn’t do that.

“Then, Chris Carrier came along and Scott took the job as manager and overseeing stuff and consulting with us. It only worked for two weeks. We had a lot of success and the car ran up front and ran good. And then Scott left us.

“Now we’re basically starting over again. … Chris has brought some positive things to the table as far as communication skills with me. Now we’re going back to places again for the first time together, so we’re almost having to start all over. Man, it’s frustrating. It’d be nice to have some history and make our own notes instead of going off of somebody else’s notes. We need to be making our own.”

That’s what Skinner and Carrier are now trying to do.

“Morgan-McClure is a good race team and has had a lot of success,” Carrier said. “The last couple of years the team has not been where Larry wants it to be. Both parties – the team and the driver – have a lot to prove. I think we’re on the verge of proving that. We don’t have a lot of records to show for it, and a lot of people think we’re having a bad year. But we know we’re going forward. I think you’ll see some good finishes that last half of this season.”

Staff Writer Lee Montgomery can be reached at lee.montgomery@rmg3.com

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