NASCAR WCUP: The Crew Chief Club Looks Into The Crystal Ball
28 January 1999HARRISBURG, N.C. - With only a week to go before the sound of rumbling engines resonates throughout the garage area of Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, the question on everyone's mind is "What is going to happen this season in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series?"
It's become common practice for everyone affiliated with the sport to make predictions as to which team will win the championship, who will capture his first win and which teams might surprise everyone in the upcoming season. Usually by now, most people have heard the driver's and car owner's thoughts on those exact questions.
Now, the founding members of the Crew Chief Club have pulled out the crystal ball to give everyone their predictions on how their teams will fare in 1999, as well as which teams may stand out as the season rolls on.
"As far as our team is concerned, our goal for 1999 is the ultimate goal, winning the championship," said Todd Parrott, crew chief on the Ford Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Ford of Dale Jarrett. "In addition to that we'd like to win ten races, sit on at least five poles and have zero DNFs - no failures. In regards to the championship, I think our team, the (No.) 24 team and the (No.) 6 team will be the strongest this year. The (No.) 2 team will be there again, but I think that's about it for contenders this year. I think Jeremy Mayfield will continue to stand out as a surprise on the circuit, and our teammate, Kenny Irwin, has a good shot at collecting his first win."
"Since this is my first full season with the Lowe's team and Mike's (Skinner) third year in NASCAR Winston Cup racing, it's hard to make big predictions or set big goals," said Larry McReynolds, crew chief on the Lowe's Home Improvement Chevrolet of Skinner. "But like every other team going to Daytona, we would love to win the championship, the Daytona 500, all the races we can, and sit on as many poles as possible. Realistically, when I step back and see where we're at right now, I think this team has a good chance of winning several races including the Daytona 500. And if at end of the 1999 season we can look back and see that we won a couple races, and Mike can walk on the stage at the Winston Cup awards banquet in December, I'll feel pretty satisfied with what we accomplished with this Lowe's team.
"In regards to the scope of the season," McReynolds continued, "I believe you'll see the same group of cars do well that you see year-in and year-out. The bench mark will be the (No.) 24 car of Jeff Gordon and you have to believe the (No.) 6 car of Mark Martin will be there. Dale Jarrett will certainly be in the running, and Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton will keep nipping at their heels. I also think that the guy who will be real tough again this year is the (No.) 2 car of Rusty Wallace. He showed a lot of spark last season and he's got that momentum going in to this season. But I believe the top four will be the (Nos.) 24, 88, 6 and 2.
"Now, I'm trying not to be prejudiced, but I have to say that Mike Skinner may surprise some people this year," McReynolds added. "If you look back at the second half of the 1998 season, this (No.) 31 team did some pretty impressive things. If the points race had started at Loudon (N.H.) in July, the Lowe's team would have been eighth in points, close to seventh. For us to say we're going to contend for a title is a little bold. We still have some weaknesses to work on in order to achieve that, but with the exception of bad luck, this (No.) 31 team can show a lot of the same characteristics and spark that we saw in Jeremy Mayfield and the (No.) 12 team last year. Mike Skinner will be one to achieve his first win this year, but I'm hesitant to predict others because I might miss someone who's been knocking on the door."
"We have three goals in mind for the 1999 season," said Jimmy Makar, crew chief on the Interstate Batteries Pontiac of Bobby Labonte. "One is to be a contender in every race. As long as we can do that, we feel we can win some races and be in contention for the championship at the end of year. Two, is for us to improve on our statistics from last year. And finally, we hope to make our two-car operation a successful operation and have both teams do well. I think you're going to see the same teams that were contenders last year going for the title again this year. Most of them have stayed together as far as personnel is concerned, so I don't forsee those guys floundering much this year. There may be a few other top-10 teams who get some breaks during the season to bring them up to serious contention as well.
"It's hard to predict any darkhorse contenders right now," Makar continued. "If you had asked that question this time last year, I don't think anyone would have guessed that Jeremy Mayfield was going to do what he did. But, there always seems to be one driver and team that emerge during the season, but who that might be is anyone's guess right now. But I will say that Mike Skinner has the best shot at a first career win in 1999."
"We'd like to improve on last year," said Robin Pemberton, crew chief on the Miller Lite Ford of Rusty Wallace. "We like to be as consistent as we were last year, but we'd like to have a few more wins and a couple more poles. We'd really like to cut down on the DNFs. We've been getting better at finishing races, but one of the biggest things we'd like to see this year is no DNFs."
"I'm pretty sure you'll see the same teams vying for the championship again this season," Pemberton added. "But most of the guys in last year's top-10 will certainly make it a tough battle. As far as surprise contenders, I can't really predict that right now. I'm sure we'll see someone who will come out of the box and do well, but I have to see how things go the beginning of the season before I'll make that pick. And I'm sure we'll see a few first time winners, but I'm not sure who hasn't won their first race yet, so I won't make a prediction. I will say that those who have gotten their first win in the past few seasons, will certainly build on it and establish themselves as consistent competitors."
Makar, McReynolds, Parrott and Pemberton founded the Crew Chief Club in 1998, with the goal being to provide fans with an insider's look behind shop walls and into the confines of the NASCAR garage area. Together with its marketing partners, Racing Champions, EA Sports, and Goodyear, Crew Chief Club members will be accessible to fans at races and special events, in the media and on the world wide web at www.crewchiefclub.com, prominently displaying their dedication to their drivers, their teams and their sport.