McMurray win breaks modern-era record

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   Jamie McMurray's win at Lowe's Motor Speedway Sunday in his second ever Winston Cup start broke the previous modern-era record set last season by Kevin Harvick, who won in his third Cup start. Other notables in the Winston Cup garage winning early in their careers include Dale Earnhardt, Jr., a winner in his 12th start, Matt Kenseth a winner in his 18th start and Tony Stewart, whose win at Richmond in 1999 was his 25th career start.
   He also joined rookies Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman, who won earlier this year, making them the first trio of rookies in the modern era to win races the same season. For the record, Jeff Gordon did not win until his 47th career start at Charlotte in Sterling Marlin, the injured driver McMurray was substituting for in the UAW-GM 500, didn't win on stock car racing's biggest circuit until his 279th career start.
   Marlin, although at home in Tennessee, was a big part of Sunday's win. The car was the same one the team used in earlier wins this season at Las Vegas and Darlington, and the set-up was the same Marlin used last year to win this same race.
   It's still unclear whether or not McMurray can defend his status as Winston Cup's most recent winner at Martinsville. The 26 year-old Missouri driver is still under contract with the Brewco Motorsports Busch Series team and is currently scheduled to race the No. 27 Williams Travel Centers Chevy in that circuit's race next weekend at Memphis. For the record, his best career Busch Series finish is a second to Earnhardt at Richmond last month.
   It was made official Sunday morning that Penske Racing South will be switching from car manufacturers from Ford to Dodge at the end of the season.
   The team had flown the Blue Oval colors of Ford since 1994, scoring 24 wins with drivers Rusty Wallace, Jeremy Mayfield and Ryan Newman. In the team's first three years of existence they raced in Pontiacs with driver Wallace winning 13 times.
   It remains to be seen whether the change will affect performance, but the team can feel confident judging by the last time they switched makes. Wallace came off a season in 1993 where he led the Winston Cup Series with 10 race wins in Pontiacs and followed it up by leading the series scoring eight wins his first year with Ford.
   They became the fourth major NASCAR team to announce a new affiliation with car makes for next season. Earlier in the year, Joe Gibbs Racing announced a move from Pontiacs to Chevrolets, Morgan-McClure Motorsports did the opposite going from Chevys to Pontiacs, while the Cal Wells team moved from Fords to Pontiacs.
   For only the second time in the last five weeks the driver entering a Winston Cup race with the points lead, left the speedway maintaining that advantage. Tony Stewart, who entered the day 72 points ahead of Mark Martin and 82 ahead of Jimmie Johnson, left Lowe's Motor Speedway with a 97-point lead over Johnson and an 116-point advantage over Martin with only five races to go.
   Out of the top ten racers in the NASCAR standings, everyone from seventh place on back including Ricky Rudd and Matt Kenseth, looked to be eliminated from title contention on Sunday. Rudd lost plenty of ground after a right tire blew leading to a hard crash on lap 220. He ended up 39th in the final race rundown. Kenseth experienced motor troubles, which relegated him to a 34th-place finish and 305 points behind Stewart.
   Newman, Wallace and Gordon still looked to maintain an outside shot at the championship through top ten finishes. Newman is 165 points behind, Wallace 182 and Gordon now 211 points back.