Hamilton 27Th In First Race Back

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In his first race back after an injury sidelined him for five weeks, Schneider Electric driver Bobby Hamilton drove the No. 55 Chevrolet home in 27th position in the 3 ½-hour rain-delayed UAW-GM Quality 500.

The team battled a race car that was extremely loose entering the corners but tight coming off the turns during the race. They made numerous adjustments to the track bar and tire pressures to help Hamilton gain track position, but lost three laps on the track to the leaders. The Schneider Electric pit crew even took advantage of a caution on lap 222 to place a rubber in the right rear, thinking it might help salvage some positions on the race track.

But not too long after that on lap 229, a multi-car accident on the front stretch left Hamilton a victim of circumstance when Bill Elliott rear ended him. Luckily the Nashville, Tenn., native was wearing his new shoulder device to protect his previously injured shoulder from further injuries. The driver radioed after he spun on the front grass to tell the crew he was fine, but that the right side of his car had extensive damage.

Immediately the crew members scattered throughout the pits to get the necessary tools to fix the car. Hamilton drove the beat up Chevy into the pit box and the crew men jumped over the wall on lap 231. They knocked in the front fenders, changed the right side tires and sent Hamilton back onto the 1.5-mile oval, trying to not lose any more laps. The very next lap he hit pit road again so the team could change the left side tires. This gave the crew members a couple of extra minutes to figure out what would be necessary to fix the right side of the car.

Hamilton radioed that the wheel still felt straight so the team only had to fix the sheet metal damage to the car. They used hammers to beat the sides in to straighten them, cut off part of the back and side panels and placed tape over the surface to keep it smooth.

By the time NASCAR called for a restart on lap 243 the crew members had fixed the sheet metal damage to the No. 55 Chevy, although Hamilton’s handling problems were not fixed. When it became unbearable for him to drive, he hit pit road for an unscheduled pit stop begging for help.

“I can’t even drive it Jimmy,” Hamilton said over the radio on lap 286 to crew chief Jimmy Elledge. “I try to turn the steering wheel and it won’t even turn. The track bar is not going to be enough. It feels like it has a spring out of socket or something major is wrong.” Elledge called for the team to change the tires, make major adjustments to the track bar and take the rubber out of the right rear. This seemed to help Hamilton keep pace on the race track. Despite the battles, he brought the Chevy home in 27th position and got out of the race car saying his shoulder and wrist felt great.

“I was worried when that wreck happened on the front straightaway that it was going to hurt,” Hamilton said. “And when it didn’t hurt, it proved my decision to get back in this race car. I still feel like I did when I got in it this afternoon. I am ready to put this race behind us and focus on our test schedule and races ahead of us.”

Rookie Jamie McMurray, filling in for the injured Sterling Marlin and in only his second Winston Cup Series start, won the UAW-GM Quality 500. Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace followed in the top five.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2002

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