Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Skinner Starts Fast with or without Help

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Skinner Starts Fast with or without Help

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Mike Skinner began the season with the relatively modest goals of winning his first Winston Cup points race and finishing in the top 10 in the standings.

Two races later, the 41-year-old late bloomer is being forced to wonder if he should aim higher.

Skinner leads the Winston Cup standings by 29 points over Rusty Wallace after finishing fourth in the Daytona 500 and sixth last week at Rockingham.

Granted, first place at this juncture is akin to leading an election with only a few suburban precincts reporting. But Skinner has shown enough promise to suggest he could wind up in the second echelon of drivers chasing favorites Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Bobby Labonte.

"It's awfully early," Skinner said on a conference call this week. "We still lack seat time at a lot of places, and we still have some race tracks that I struggled at. That's the key to the Winston Cup. That's where Mark Martin and Jeff and Dale Jarrett and some of the guys that have more seat time have the advantage."

Still, Skinner has proven to be a capable driver when he can stay out of wrecks. Add to that the fact he is driving for Richard Childress Racing, which has won six championships with Dale Earnhardt, and the fact he has one of the best crew chiefs in the business in Larry McReynolds.

Skinner was almost as well known for his pool-shooting ability as his driving until he won the Craftsman Truck Series title in '95. That, and a third-place series finish the following year, helped him land the job of driving Childress' No. 31 Lowe's Chevy.

He won Rookie of the Year honors in '97 with a 31st-place finish in the standings. Last year, he crashed in four of the first seven races and missed three events with injuries, but bounced back to finish 21st in the standings. He capped his season with a second consecutive victory in the NASCAR Thunder exhibition race in Japan.

The turning point in '98 came in June when Childress swapped the crew chiefs on his two teams, putting McReynolds with Skinner and Kevin Hamlin with Earnhardt.

Skinner has made a connection with McReynolds, a fiery, shoot-from-the-hip sort who clashed with the proud and sometimes moody Earnhardt. …

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