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Okay, Jamie: Show us what you've got


Now that he's got Donnie Wingo back as crew chief, Jamie McMurray expects to be a heavy-hitter (Photo: Autostock)


   By Mike Mulhern

   FONTANA, Calif.
   So is this another breakthrough opportunity for Jamie McMurray?
   He's certainly happier than he's been in quite a while.
   He'll be the first man to take the green in Sunday's California 500 at 3 p.m. PST (6 p.m. EST), with pole winner Brian Vickers having to slide to the rear of the 43-car pack because of an engine change.
   And McMurray hopes to pack as much punch here this time as teammate Carl Edwards showed here last spring.
   McMurray's key – crew chief Donnie Wingo, paired with him again after several years apart.
   "I've missed Donnie – he's the man I've compared every other crew chief I've ever had to," McMurray says. "Mainly because we communicate better than any other crew chief I've had.
   "And he seems to 'get' me.
    "It's going to be just an awesome season for us.
   "After being in Daytona for so many days, it was just nice to get on a track where you felt you got to make a difference, where it wasn't just totally up to your crew.
    "And it's weird having not testing. We tested out here and at Vegas every year….so it's kind of odd.
   "But once you get on the track it just doesn't seem that much different than what it did in the past."

Paul Menard's crew runs his car over NASCAR's scales (Photo: Autostock)

Teammate Matt Kenseth's Daytona victory has set up car owner Jack Roush for an early season charge. Roush's teams typically perform much better at mid-sized tracks like this, and Sunday's 250-lapper should be another showdown between Roush Fords and Rick Hendrick Chevrolets, though Toyota teams, with men like Vickers and Kyle Busch, hope to be factors too.
    An interesting twist to the Roush picture this season is newcomer Bobby Labonte, in a Ford for the first time in quite a while. Labonte was only picked for a Roush-Yates ride a few weeks ago, and he's still trying to get accustomed to things. He says he's particularly eager for this event, "because we came around so late as far as making this deal happen.
   "And nobody came here to test; nobody went to Vegas to test…except for that tire test.
    "I didn't go anywhere to test. So to strap myself in this car with all of this horsepower, I've been looking forward to this day for a long time.
    "I am pleasantly pleased with everything, so far. The car feels good.
    "But I still have a long ways to go, as far as a driver figuring this thing out, because it's different from what I've had in the past."


Car owner Jack Roush (R) laughs it up with Ford's Ford -- Edsel (Photo: Autostock)

Labonte with Doug Yates isn't the only new package this season.
   The NASCAR landscape is undergoing a number of changes, and not only with teams, like new owners Tommy Baldwin (with driver Scott Riggs), Jeremy Mayfield (owner-driver) and Kevin Buckler (a rookie Cup team owner, with David Gilliland driving Slugger Labbe Chevys).
   Facing a rough economic picture, NASCAR's promoters are cranking up.
   Kenseth's one-day whirlwind through San Francisco, using his Daytona 500 win to promote Sonoma's June Cup event, is just one example of new game plans this season.
   Next Thursday morning Las Vegas' Strip will be filled with NASCAR haulers, for a promotional run up Las Vegas Blvd to Bruton Smith's track on the north end of town.
   And Texas Motor Speedway, prepping for its April 5th 500 in the key Dallas-Fort Worth market, will be launching its redesigned website Wednesday, amid considerable hoopla – hoping to use 'social networking enhancements' to attract fans. Eddie Gossage's track will be hosting a 'Media Day,' with Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Colin Braun, and Indy stars Danica Patrick, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti, to be carried on a webcast that will feature satellite feeds from the Indy-car testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In another novel move, web-viewers can get $10 off a ticket by signing up on the site; Gossage figures that move might trigger a vigorous fan forum, in something of a Facebook design.
   NASCAR executives are particularly interested in how well Gossage's web moves play out.

If there's an Alan Kulwicki in the NASCAR mix this season, it could be Jeremy Mayfield (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


Mayfield an Alan Kulwicki?

Mayfield an Alan Kulwicki? Get real.

Owner-drivers and smal teams simply cannot overcome the eight-figure costs and enormous necessity of equipment, engineering, and personnel, and the sponsor commitments that come with them, to accomplish anything in modern NASCAR. Add in Mayfield's notoriously poor working relationships with every team he's worked with and the chances of success are even lower here.

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