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At least, McMurray’s car is heading for Martinsville

Oct 15, 2002 4:30 AM

   Last week’s win by rookie Jamie McMurray at Charlotte in only his second career Winston Cup start can lend several key components to compound arguments NASCAR fans constantly argue about.

   “It’s all about the car, and not the driver.”

   McMurray’s win proved that all the fantastic set-up notes used by the Coors Light Ganassi team that helped them win that race last year with Sterling Marlin were invaluable in helping the little known driver set a record by winning a Cup race in the least amount of starts.

 You could actually hear the grumbles of envious hapless drivers like the Bodines validate their career records with McMurray’s win. But it’s more about being in the right place at the right time.

 McMurray made the most of his opportunity and seized the moment. He has a full time Cup ride already in place next season with Ganassi and the new sponsors, Havoline, have to be thrilled to already have so much momentum going into next season.

Perhaps it is all about the car, but to get a chance to drive that car, you have to be in position to get it. Local driver Brendan Gaughan knows this too and is waiting for his perfect opportunity.

   This week at Martinsville could actually be the first time that the winner of a race does not start the ensuing week. McMurray wasn’t scheduled to fill in for Marlin because of his Busch series commitments. It was said that Truck Series driver Mike Bliss would fill in for McMurray this week, but that is likely to change.

   The win for McMurray made him the 17th different driver to win a race in 2002 with five races remaining. Last season, a record 19 drivers won a race. Over the last two seasons combined, 24 drivers have won a race further illustrating how much parity is involved in Winston Cup racing today.

 McMurray’s brilliant burst exemplifies the growing trend in support of the “Young Guns”. Each and everyone of the “Young Guns” has a win within the last two seasons

   When scanning the non-win list this season, two drivers stand out as strong candidates to join to list of winners at Martinsville this Sunday.

   Rusty Wallace (10-1) is a six-time champ at Martinsville and is considered to be one of the best short track drivers on the circuit. Wallace is danger of having his 16-year win streak snapped, the longest on the circuit.

 Despite the drought, Wallace may be having one of his most consistent seasons. He has been able drive a car all season that hasn’t been spectacular in any qualifying or practice session to a commendable fifth place in the points.

 This comes as a shock to many considering that his Penske teammate, Ryan Newman, has been the complete opposite in all sessions. Recent history shows Wallace hasn’t wowed anyone at Martinsville in a while. His last top five finish came three years ago in this race and his last of six wins came in 1996.

   Jeff Burton (10-1) is in danger of ending his five consecutive year win streak if he doesn’t step up in the next five weeks. During Burton’s demise the last two seasons, the one constant throughout all the tracks has been Martinsville. Over those three races, he’s had an average finish of fifth He has seven top 5’s in 16 starts.

   The familiarity factor bodes well for Burton at Martinsville because it’s the closest thing that resembles the short track of South Boston, VA where he grew up.

   Whereas Wallace may be looking for a nice finish on the season with his first top five in points in four years, Burton has got checkers on his mind.

   Current points leader Tony Stewart (7-1) claims he’s driving to win and not racing points, which is probably believable just knowing his character. Stewart is so passionate about racing anything at anytime, his car owner Joe Gibbs placed a “No racing anything but the Home Depot Winston Cup car till the season is over” rule to preserve his investment.

 The moment the order came out, Stewart registered for any sanctioned race he could that fell after the season, including one at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s bullring. His credentials at Martinsville are impressive, but also have some marks on it.

   In the spring, he led the most laps and settled for third. Throw out a couple 41st place finishes and focus on the good runs and we’re looking at a stretch where he won, finished sixth and seventh. Look for Stewart in all matchup wagering possibilities and don’t count out a win.

   Two-time Martinsville winner, Mark Martin (10-1), slid to third in the standings last week but still has a legitimate shot at winning the title with some help. First, Martin must help himself. Though he does have a win to credit this season, Martin’s season has mirrored Wallace. His last win at Martinsville was two years ago in the spring.

   The rookies got taken school the last time they visited Martinsville. The initiation into Old School NASCAR 101 for Jimmie Johnson (14-1) and Ryan Newman (14-1) was a tough one, but one they probably learned a valuable lesson. The golden Martinsville rule is patience. It’s a 500-lap small marathon, which rules out sprinters. Value can definitely be had with these two this week, however, be weary of the matchups.

   Traditionally, Martinsville produces some of the bigger payouts with longshot drivers winning. Last season in this race, Ricky Craven (25-1) won at 40—1. Bobby Labonte (15-1) who has never been known to be a short track driver won at 18—1 this year.

 Skip back to ”˜99 and John Andretti (55-1) paid off at 45-1. Go back a year later and see that Bobby Hamilton (65-1) won at 25-1 and Ricky Rudd (20-1) won at 55—1. It is the only track that has produced such amazing consistency in longshot cashing. In all, the last 10 races have produced 10 different winners.

   By the way, Jeff Gordon (7-1) has 10 top five finishes in 19 starts that include three wins.


   TOP 5 at Martinsville:

   1) #99 Jeff Burton                10-1

   2) #2 Rusty Wallace    10-1

   3) #24 Jeff Gordon    7-1

   4) #18 Bobby Labonte    15-1

   5) #20 Tony Stewart    7-1