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Hey, Mikey: Nice move hiring Scott Miller, eh?

  Scott Miller, the new competition director, is whipping Michael Waltrip's Toyota team into shape. Wonder if rival team owner Richard Childress is having second thoughts now about letting Miller leave. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   FONTANA, Calif.
   Scott Miller!
   Talk about a miracle worker.
   But now what can he do for an encore, after Sunday's performance at Bristol?

   Well, a victory would be nice. But that might just be some icing on the cake, because what Miller has done during the short time he's been competition director for Michael Waltrip has been solid.
   What else to make of the 3-4-5 finishes of Waltrip's Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers. And these guys weren't flukes, not by a long shot.
   The Miller-engineered turnaround started last fall but was most vivid at Bristol, where Vickers, running only his first race of the season, charged to the front and dominated the first half of the three-hour event. And Vickers was right there at the end too…more than could be said of some of his rivals who faded.
    Brian Pattie, Bowyer's crew chief: "Scott brings organization.
    "He's been there and done that. He understands what needs to get done, and he knows how to prioritize projects in the shop that need to get done for the future health of the company.
    "There are a lot of moving parts, and success is a moving target. But he's doing a good job keeping everybody in line and focused on the end result -- which is running top-five consistently."


    Matt Kenseth: Daytona isn't the race he's going to win this season. Number two might come Sunday in the California 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   The man to beat here this weekend in Sunday's California 500 looks like Matt Kenseth, though teammate Greg Biffle is calling his own shot: "We've got the best car to ever come out of the Roush Fenway shop," Biffle says. "Our California car has the best downforce numbers, it's the lightest, baddest, newest thing the guys can build."
   Biffle, atop the Sprint Cup standings four weeks in, started from the pole at Bristol but faded; he blamed a broken right-front bump-stop, which left the front-splitter banging the pavement in the corners. 
   Kenseth, always a threat here, showed power and strength and smarts in winning the Daytona 500. Teammate Carl Edwards has seemed a bit tentative so far this season, not so much the fiery, devil-may-care racer of last spring.  Biffle, always fast here, and usually fast at all the mid-sized tracks, is still trying to close the deal.
   Biffle on the pole, and Chevy rival Jimmie Johnson on the outside, that might be a good prediction.
   But when it comes to closing at this place,  Kenseth may be the man.
   This relatively flat track, with its 14-degree corners and extreme entry speeds (208 mph), hasn't been conducive to good side-by-side racing, and that may have hurt the crowds. With rival promoter Bruton Smith now talking about redoing the Bristol layout to make it more fan-friendly, in terms of the slam-bang action that made it the toughest ticket in NASCAR, perhaps Lesa France Kennedy, who runs the France family's track empire, may be persuaded too to change up things here. First off, more banking in the corners should help; Michigan, a similar layout, has 18-degree corners, and Texas World, another similar layout, has 22-degree banking. Slower speeds might also help; the faster the track, the narrower the groove.
   Kenseth, on this track: "It has changed a lot the last few years.
   "It seems like we used to have a better handle on it before it got really rough…the cracks got wide…it wore out…and the groove moved up so much.
   "It is a really fun track, and really challenging because of the huge cracks in the corners you have to drive around…combined with the seams in the pavement.
    "In order to have a good car, you have to get through the corners faster than everybody else. Everyone thinks it is a big horsepower track because it is a two-mile track, but it gets so slick, and there is not a lot of grip in the corners as the run goes on.
    "You need to have your car balanced well and have that momentum through the corners."
    When it comes to momentum tracks like this, Tony Stewart ought to be good too.


Yes, Kyle Busch can be a monster on the track. If only team owner Joe Gibbs can keep the reins tight. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    However at the other end of the spectrum as the season opens, the Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt.
    Kurt's frustrations are mounting, and when his Las Vegas car got torn up two weeks ago, well he didn't take it well because that was to be his California car too. Team owner James Finch may have access to all the Hendrick Motorsports engineering, but Finch still runs a small, bare-bones operation.
    Kyle was hoping to get his season re-fired at Bristol, and that early race crash left him irate.
    This should be a good track too for Kyle; he dominated here a year ago…..
    "It's a little harder to get hold of (than Michigan)," Kyle Busch says. "But you can really spread out – We've been seeing a lot of guys all the way down at the white line, and guys all the way up at the wall.
     "You can race all over it, and with the race as long as it is, you need to take a lot of time working through traffic."
    Kyle says he's going to keep an eye on Johnson: "California is just another one of those tracks that seems to suit Jimmie really, really well. He's been in contention to win the past eight races, and he's probably won four of them.
    "It's all about the second-to-last pit stop and the last pit stop. I remember California last year: we led the most laps, ran up front all day, and then the last run of the race we missed a little bit of something.  Jimmie caught me, passed me, and then Kevin Harvick came out of nowhere and passed Jimmie too."

  Michael Waltrip, owner-driver-tv star, talks business with chief engineer Scott Miller (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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