Loose Car Gets The Best Of Hamilton

DARLINGTON, S.C. – The 2002 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway was a difficult one for Bobby Hamilton.

“I have never worked so hard for a 23rd position in all my life in Darlington,” said Schneider Electric driver Bobby Hamilton, who fought a loose race car in Sunday’s race.

Hamilton, who has managed to finish races on the lead lap since July, sat on the ground beside his car to catch his breath following the 367-lap, one hour and 45-minute rain-delayed event.

“I might as well have been racing a dirt race at Duqoin,” Hamilton said to crew chief Jimmy Elledge, referring to where his car owner, Andy Petree, is racing Monday afternoon. “I think it was the shocks that seemed to be the problem. Every time I went over the slightest bump it was like the car was out there flopping around. I would have to let off the gas entering in the corners and then get back in it quick down the straightaway to stay caught up. No matter what, it felt like we weren’t getting anywhere.”

At the start of the event, Hamilton’s car ran lap times that were comparable to the leaders. But it was about 100 laps later that he began losing grip, creating an extremely loose condition that got worse as the day went on. The driver and crew chief tried to communicate with each other throughout every caution to make a game plan that could help their problems with the No. 55 Chevrolet.

On Lap 204 Hamilton did an excellent job keeping his car off the wall after he slipped in some oil that turned him completely sideways. Following the incident Elledge tried to make adjustments to the Chevy to help him keep it under control. In the next pit stops, the Schneider Electric pit crew adjusted tire pressures, opened up the front shocks and made adjustments to the track bar. Still Hamilton battled a loose condition.

During long stints of green-flag racing, Hamilton fought off the leaders to stay on the lead lap. And with his battles, he accomplished his goal in the last few laps as he fought off leader Jeff Gordon. He finished the event in 23rd position, the last car on the lead lap.

Elledge apologized to Hamilton after the race, telling his driver, “Bobby, I’m sorry that we couldn’t get that car any better for you today.”

Hamilton shrugged off the finish and gave Elledge some words of encouragement.

“You’d better put this one behind you and worry about that dirt race our car owner is racing in tomorrow,” Hamilton said. “He’s not going to want to fight the same things I did today.”

Jeff Gordon won the Southern 500, claiming back-to-back victories after his win last weekend in Bristol, Tenn. Ryan Newman, Bill Elliott, Sterling Marlin and Dale Jarrett followed in the Top 5.

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