The 1.366-mile Darlington Raceway is not a track where anybody wants an ill-handling race car for, as Mike Skinner found out to his cost during Sunday's Southern 500, 'The Lady in Black' will not let you get away with poor handling for 367 laps.

Skinner fought major handling problems with the #01 U.S. Army MB2 Motorsports Pontiac in the early stages of Sunday's last-ever Southern 500 on Labour Day weekend. Despite successfully keeping things pointing the right way, on lap 96 the black and yellow Pontiac got away from the former Raybestos Rookie of the Year and he slapped the outside wall.

Though Skinner's momentum was stymied due to the 30-minutes spent in the garage sorting out the damaged right front corner, the U.S. Army team fought back to finish 29th in one of the hardest Southern 500's in recent memory.

Skinner, who started the race from the 16th position, was the recipient of the infamous "Darlington Stripe" when he brushed the wall in Turn 3 on lap 96 of the 367-lap event. The contact resulted in Skinner driving the car to the garage with major damage to the entire right side.

"It was driver error," said a candid Skinner. "When the car is tight and won't turn, a veteran driver is supposed to slow down in the corners. I guess I was trying too hard to prove myself to the team that I'm the right guy to sit in for Jerry (Nadeau) until he comes back. You can't do that if you're not giving 100 percent. Unfortunately, sometimes when you give it your all it can come back and bite you."

Crew chief Ryan Pemberton had a different version of the incident.

"The car was not good in the beginning," said Pemberton. "We kept on making adjustments, but nothing seemed to work. Mike had his hands full and gave it everything he had. But when the car is handling poorly, especially at this track, there's a good chance you're going to stuff into the wall. There were other veteran drivers who experienced the same outcome today."

Pemberton and the Army of One team worked through the adversity and came together in the end as the 01 Pontiac was clicking off impressive lap times.

"I really feel like we all redeemed ourselves in the end," said Skinner, who drove his fourth race for the U.S. Army team. "We did some experimenting and I think we hit on something that will help us at future races. What I really like about this team is that you never see any long faces when things aren't going well, whether it's in practice or in the race. The focus is always to make it better."

And making it better will be the main objective for Skinner and the U.S. Army team at the next NASCAR Winston Cup stop -- Saturday night in Richmond where Nadeau was critically injured in May. A good result for the #01 team will not only be an emotional victory, but also a timely boost for a squad who have suffered more than their fair share of heartache in 2003 both on and off the track.