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McMurray understands fill-in challenges Bowman is facing
RELATED: Earnhardt Jr. sitting out remainder of 2016 DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Jamie McMurray knows from experience the challenges young Alex Bowman faces as he fills in for sidelined Dale Earnhardt Jr . in the No. 88 Chevrolet. Fourteen years ago, a 26-year-old McMurray was faced with a similar scenario as team owner Chip Ganassi called upon him to step in the No. 40 Dodge for injured Sterling Marlin . "I can't speak for Alex because I don't know what is going through his mind," McMurray said via NASCAR teleconference Friday. "I can only tell you that for me it is as nervous as you can get. I had raced my whole Truck and Busch (now XFINITY ) Series at the time, in cars that I think my Busch car had won like one or two races in seven or eight years. It wasn't necessarily a winning car, and then all of a sudden I got in Sterling's car that had I think won a couple of races earlier that year and it had led the points (through Darlington), it was a really good car. "So, there is a lot of pressure on you to run well because you know that you are in a car that is capable of winning." Winning didn't take long. After a 26th-place run at Talladega Super Speedway, McMurray found his way to Victory Lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Oct. 13, 2002, the second start of his Sprint Cup career. McMurray ran six races in the No. 40 for Marlin that season. "Once we won in Charlotte it was like super relieving because not only is that a confidence builder for you, but I think in all the people that are around you," McMurray reflected. Having impressed team owner Ganassi, McMurray was afforded a full-time ride the next season in the No. 42 Dodge. He earned his first pole at Homestead that year and won Rookie of the Year honors at season's close, finishing 13th in the final point standings. Having started with a simple opportunity, that six-race 2002 span ended up solidifying the foundation for McMurray's now 15-year Sprint Cup career. "If you are a driver that is trying to make it in the sport, there is no better position to be put in than to get in a car like that because you know that you have an opportunity -- maybe not to win, but you are in a car that is capable of winning and running up front and showing guys what you can do if you are in the right equipment," McMurray said. RELATED: Bowman grateful for 'chance of a lifetime' Bowman's runs in the No. 88 this season have been sporadic, as he shares seat time with veteran driver Jeff Gordon . In his two starts at New Hampshire and Michigan, the 23-year-old has finished 26th and 30th, respectively, with the car experiencing mechanical problems at Michigan. He'll make eight more runs in the No. 88 car this season at Chicagoland, New Hampshire, Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead. Despite finishes outside the top 25, McMurray applauds Bowman's efforts behind the No. 88 wheel thus far – and believes it bodes well for the young driver's future. "I think that Alex has, even though he hasn't pulled off a win, he has had really good speed and I think to me what sticks out the most is he is not even really in a car every week," McMurray said. "If you were in a truck every week or an XFINITY car ... and then you were filling in, that would be one thing. But he hasn't really been racing that much this year. To jump in and do what he has done at a track like Loudon, which is one style of racing, and then to go to a place like Michigan that is completely different -- he has just done an awesome job. "I know that probably for him the phone is not ringing as much as he wants it to, but he is going to get an opportunity because to me he has really shown that he is capable of it." MORE: McMurray's throwback paint scheme for Darlington
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NASCAR.com's 2016 Daytona 500 predictions
Going into 2016's season opener, members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make predictions for who will head to Victory Lane for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway . Zack Albert Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Restrictor-plate racing is often finicky, but it's hard to go against a proven Daytona-winning driver with a stout car that goes where he points it. Kenny Bruce Dale Earnhardt Jr .: As much as I'd like to see a surprise winner, inside information tells me it's Dale Jr.'s to lose. Holly Cain Denny Hamlin : He is overdue in this race, at a place he races so expertly. Pat DeCola Kyle Busch : 'Rowdy' will start 2016 the way he closed out 2015 -- on top. His dominant showing in the second Can-Am Duel was no fluke, and he'll pick up his second win of Speedweeks on Sunday. RJ Kraft Denny Hamlin : Hard to pick against Dale Jr., but I will. Hamlin has had the speed during Speedweeks, won the Sprint Unlimited and has four straight top-six finishes at Daytona. Hamlin will snap JGR's 23-year drought in the Daytona 500 and give Toyota its first win in the "Great American Race." Maggie MacKenzie Joey Logano : The talk at the track has Dale Jr. and his "Amelia" car winning, but the 2015 Daytona 500 champ shouldn't be forgotten. Logano's been posting top speeds all week as he continues the strong momentum from his dominant '15 season. Brad Norman Joey Logano : "Sliced Bread" becomes the first back-to-back Daytona 500 winner since Sterling Marlin (1994-95), overpowering those Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas and, yes, even race favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr . Jessica Ruffin Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Having won half of the speedway races last season, Junior's always a top pick heading into a plate event. Tack on his Duel win Thursday and his love for his car, and you've got a recipe for Victory Lane. Taylor Starer Kyle Busch : Coming off the high of being the 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch is ready to add another accomplishment to his resume: a Daytona 500 win. The Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have all looked strong during Speedweeks, but Busch will be the one who brings Toyota its first "Great American Race" victory. Kathy Sheldon Joey Logano : Amelia's a great car, but the No. 22 almost had something for Dale Jr.'s speedy ride in the Can-Am Duels. Something crazy always happens at Daytona, and the defending winner looks like he can sneak through the trouble spots again. George Winkler Ryan Blaney : Let's pick the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate to pull off the upset for the Wood Brothers. Fellow Fords in the Team Penske camp can give him the push he needs to make like Trevor Bayne and shock the world.
Forever a Daytona 500 champ, Logano hungry for more
RELATED: See all the winners of the 'Great American Race' DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When Joey Logano captured the 2015 Daytona 500 , he became the 36th driver to win NASCAR's biggest race. It is the Sprint Cup Series' signature event, always has been and likely always will be. Win a Daytona 500 trophy and it's something race fans will talk about for years. Who finished second in last year's race? Was it Kevin Harvick ? Dale Earnhardt Jr .? Tony Stewart or Matt Kenseth ? Few folks probably recall. But the winner? Sure. The 58th running of what broadcaster Ken Squier aptly described as the "Great American Race" is Sunday at Daytona International Speedway (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). "It's cool; it sounds good when they introduce you like that," Logano, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, said Tuesday during Media Day activities. "I have enjoyed it. And I am excited to get our car out of the museum and see our car again." Winning Daytona 500 entries are put on display at DIS for one year. Teams retrieve them prior to the start of the following season. The confetti hasn't been wiped away, and dents and dings are still there. RELATED: Oh, the places Daytona's winning cars go Giving up the car was a minor nuisance, but more than a fair trade for capturing a Daytona 500 title, according to the recipient of last season's Harley J. Earl Trophy. But what’s done is done and the sport moves forward. "What won last year is not going to win this year, whether it is what you do inside the car or the setup of the car," said Logano, a 14-time winner in the series. "It's because the sport is always evolving and getting better. [Winning the 500] is great but it [happened] last year, and we have to keep looking forward." Drivers are creatures of habit, most sticking to daily routines that have been constructed out of necessity. Some have taken it a bit further, mimicking past actions that led up to particular successes, eating the same meals, traveling the same routes to and from the track, or wearing the same clothing. "I don't do any of that," Logano said. "I have tried that stuff before because you will try anything to win a race, but it doesn't work. It is kind of disgusting if you start wearing the same underwear and stuff like that. It gets nasty pretty quick." He also said he doesn't remember what he did before particular wins, including last season's Daytona 500 . "But I wouldn’t do it anyway," he said. "To me, if I am thinking about a … sandwich and not what I am doing on the race track then I believe I'm doing it the wrong way." Ryan Newman won the Daytona 500 in 2008 while also driving for Team Penske . The 17-time race winner, now with Richard Childress Racing , said winning the 500 "changes people's impressions of who you are." "It's like having the ultimate hard card (credential) walking around Daytona," Newman said. "It doesn't change how I do things, what I do or how I think. But I think it changes people's impressions of me in a good way, which is what you want." That his father, Greg, was in the spotter's stand for his victory, he said, "made it ultra-sweet." This Sunday, Logano will attempt to become just the 12th driver to win multiple Daytona 500 titles, and join a list that consists of: seven-time winner Richard Petty; four-time winner Cale Yarborough; three-time winners Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon ; two-time winners Bill Elliott , Sterling Marlin , Michael Waltrip , Matt Kenseth , Jimmie Johnson ; and Dale Earnhardt Jr . RELATED: See all the drivers with multiple wins Winning a Daytona 500 doesn't necessarily make going after a second one any easier or less stressful. "Race car drivers sort of live in the moment," said Waltrip, who won the Daytona 500 in 2001 and '03. "That type of thing (multiple wins) … is for later in life. You get to be 40 years old and you haven't won one yet and you start thinking about winning a Daytona 500 . Then it becomes more of a topic in your brain and the fact that you’re going to have to deal with not having one, possibly. "Joey's more worried about winning another one and the championship. This is just a race he knows he can win and that's exactly the way he's approaching it, in my opinion. Sure, he'd love to have another Daytona 500 trophy, but it's because that’s this (next) race. I'm pretty sure he believes he's going to have many, many more chances to win this race again.” Logano placed 12th in last Sunday's single-car qualifying. His official starting position won't be determined until after Thursday's Can-Am Duel qualifying races (first duel starts at 7 p.m. ET, FS1). A year ago, he started fifth in the Daytona 500 and finished trailing no one. RELATED: Full lineups for the Duels "It is such a big race to be a part of," he said. "Winning it is incredible. It is a hard feeling to explain. … Even a year later, I still can't put it into words. "I was just screaming on the radio and that is probably still the best way to explain it now."
How does a doll fit into Darlington's history?
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- NASCAR competitors have driven with good luck charms for probably as long the sanctioning body has been in existence. A rabbit's foot here, a four-leaf clover there, lucky shoes for some, specific pre-race rituals for others. The lucky penny that rode with Dale Earnhardt to his lone victory in the Daytona 500 in 1998 can still be found glued to the dash of the familiar black No. 3 Chevrolet. After winning back-to-back Daytona 500 titles in 1994-95, former driver Sterling Marlin refused to vary from his pre-race routine leading up to the season-opening event. Marlin stayed in the same hotel, in the same room, wore the same T-shirt under his uniform and dined on the same pre-race meal -- a bologna sandwich and soft drink. More of an early marketing stunt than an attempt to reverse his fortunes on the race track, former series champion Tim Flock raced with a monkey named Jocko Flocko riding shotgun for several races in 1953. Which brings us to this weekend's Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), and the Stock Car Racing Museum located on the grounds of the historic track. Among the several cars on display inside the museum is the race-winning entry from the very first Southern 500 held in 1950. Johnny Mantz, an open-wheel racer who made just 12 NASCAR starts between '50-'56, piloted the black No. 98 Plymouth. Burlington, North Carolina, businessman Hubert Westmoreland was the car's owner. Riding along with Mantz in the car that Labor Day was a child's doll that belonged to the daughter of Alvin Hawkins, a race promoter and flagman. According to reports, the team wanted to remove the doll before the start of the race -- how it got in there in the first place isn't known -- but Lottie Westmoreland, Hubert's wife, convinced them to leave it in the car for good luck. Mantz, in just his third NASCAR start, won by nine laps in a 75-car field that included future Hall of Famers Fireball Roberts, Lee Petty, Cotton Owens and Flock. The doll was taken out and placed in storage following the race, where it stayed forgotten for several years. When track officials donated the car to the museum in 1965, the story of the doll resurfaced; it was located and returned to its rightful place inside the car where it has remained all these years. An arm is missing and the shoes have disappeared as well. Time has taken its toll, understandable given her age. Sixty-five years after Darlington Raceway ushered in a new era in NASCAR and Johnny Mantz roared to a surprising victory, a child's toy is a silent reminder of yesterday.
NASCAR.com's Daytona 500 predictions
See who our staff members pick to take the checkered flag Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their picks for the Great American Race below. Who do you have? Let us know in the comments section. Zack Albert Denny Hamlin . Joe Gibbs Racing cars have shown plenty of oomph so far in Speedweeks, making Matt Kenseth another Daytona favorite. Sunday, it should be Hamlin's turn in Victory Lane. Kenny Bruce Dale Earnhardt Jr. Strong all week, and probably as pumped as he's ever been about his team and his car. Holly Cain Jimmie Johnson. Pat DeCola Jimmie Johnson. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has been unstoppable thus far at Speedweeks, but he's coming off one of his worst seasons to date -- making Johnson the rare "dark horse favorite." The No. 48 Chevrolet swept both Daytona races in his 2013 championship season but hadn't finished higher than 20th in the six Daytona races prior to that. Still, I've got a feeling. Stu Hothem Dale Earnhardt Jr. After last Saturday's first practice, the defending Daytona 500 champion said he had the fastest car in the field. On the 20th anniversary of the last back-to-back winner ( Sterling Marlin ) going to Victory Lane, Earnhardt will join Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon and NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett, Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough with three or more wins in the Great American Race. RJ Kraft Carl Edwards. The Joe Gibbs Racing stable has been as strong as the Hendrick Motorsports fleet during Speedweeks, with the veteran showing plenty of speed. It will be the organization's newest driver that brings Joe Gibbs his first trip to Victory Lane in the Daytona 500 since 1993. Brad Norman Tony Stewart. His car is fast, and Stewart seems more like the 'Smoke' of old than at any other point over the past two years. Plus, he's just due for a good break at Daytona. Jessica Ruffin Jeff Gordon. The three-time Daytona 500 champion is starting from the pole position, has a dynamic duo of Hendrick Motorsports teammates helping him in the front and his No. 24 Chevrolet SS has showcased its speed the entire week. But above all, with this event marking his final Daytona 500, Gordon has plenty of motivation to take the checkered one last time in the Great American Race. Taylor Starer Jeff Gordon. The four-time Cup champion is starting his final Great American Race as a full-time driver from the pole — what more motivation does he need to do well? Three previous Daytona 500 wins under his belt doesn't hurt, either. George Winkler Dale Earnhardt Jr. He becomes the first back-to-back winner of the Daytona 500 since Sterling Marlin in 1995. Junior's car has looked fast all week -- he won in the Daytona Duels -- and he has a strong history in this race (series-best 99.6 driver rating, two previous Daytona 500 wins). MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today
Austin Dillon gets new No. 3 crew chief at RCR
Gil Martin moves to R&D role, 'Slugger' Labbe takes over team Austin Dillon is getting a new crew chief in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Richard Childress Racing announced Monday. Richard "Slugger" Labbe will guide the No. 3 team, starting at Sonoma in the June 28 Toyota-Save Mart 350 . Labbe is a veteran crew chief with 433 Cup starts under his belt, including wins at the 2003 Daytona 500 and 2011 Brickyard. He guided Kenny Irwin Jr. to a rookie of the year title in 1998. He also has worked with drivers Michael Waltrip , Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin and Terry Labonte . He was Paul Menard 's full-time chief from 2010 to 2014. Dillon, a former NASCAR XFINITY Series champion and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, is 23rd in the Cup Series drivers points standings after Michigan. His best finish this season is 10th at Bristol. Martin will move into a leadership role within the RCR R&D Department, taking over Labbe's responsibilities. Martin has 16 wins in 472 NSCS starts, including a 2003 Brickyard 400 victory, and has finished in the top 10 in year-end championship points seven times. Martin also has eight wins to his credit in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Drivers honoring legends at Darlington
RELATED: See all the paint schemes for Darlington Darlington Raceway will host the Bojangles' Southern 500 this weekend. Numerous teams are participating in the throwback theme at the South Carolina track and paying homage to some of NASCAR's most famous cars -- and drivers. Here's how some of the cars looked originally, with footage of the vehicles driving around Darlington. Brad Keselowski Brad Keselowski 's scheme is paying homage to Bobby Allison's car in the 1983 Southern 500. " Watch old footage of Allison's car in action Austin Dillon Austin Dillon is keeping it in the family and honoring grandfather Richard Childress. The paint scheme of the No. 3 Chevrolet is a tribute to Childress' car during the 1979 Southern 500. " Watch old footage of Childress' car in action Denny Hamlin Denny Hamlin 's No. 11 JGR Toyota mirrors the car of NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough's look from 1973. " Watch old footage of Yarborough's car in action Ricky Stenhouse Jr . Ricky Stenhouse Jr . is honoring three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson and paying tribute to his car from the 1968 Southern 500. " Watch old footage of Pearson's car in action Chase Elliott The No. 25 of Chase Elliott is one of the many cars getting a vintage makeover. Elliott's Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet resembles the paint scheme of his father Bill Elliott 's car from 1974. " Watch old footage Elliott's car in action Kyle Larson Kyle Larson 's No. 42 Chevrolet is going to replicate Kyle Petty's Mello Yello look. " Watch old footage of Petty's car in action Clint Bowyer As Clint Bowyer looks for a strong performance at Darlington in hopes to maintain his spot on the Chase Grid, his car will be rocking a pretty awesome paint scheme honoring the late Buddy Baker. Bowyer's Toyota is similar to Baker's No. 15 Ford from the 1974 Southern 500. " Watch old footage of Baker's car in action More videos • Ward Burton's iconic No. 22 car comes back to life this weekend at Darlington as his son, Jeb, will be sporting an almost identical paint scheme. " Watch the old footage of Ward Burton's car in action • Two-time Darlington winner, Sterling Marlin , is being honored at "The Lady in Black" by Landon Cassill . Cassill's No. 40 Chevrolet will mirror Marlin's paint scheme on his own No. 40. " Watch the old footage of Sterling Marlin's with a Coors Light paint scheme he me • Dale Earnhardt Jr . is contributing to the throwback weekend by paying homage to Cale Yarborough's No. 15 car. " Watch the old footage of Yarborough's car in action • The No. 43 of Aric Almirola Almirola's is in honor of Richard Petty's 1972 Plymouth Roadrunner, the first time The King's car featured sponsor STP with the Petty Blue and Day-Glo Red on the quarter panels. " Watch old footage of Petty's iconic car • Kasey Kahne 's No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is paying respect to one of the NASCAR greats, Geoff Bodine. " See the clip of Bodine's car in action • The throwback inspiration for the paint of Trevor Bayne 's No. 6 Ford comes from Mark Martin 's own No.6. Martin is a two-time Darlington winner. " Watch Martin's memorable Ford in action • Sam Hornish Jr . is, too, honoring Mark Martin in his No. 9 Winn Dixie Ford. " Watch more footage of Martin's car in action • The No. 41 Chevrolet of Kurt Busch has a familiar paint scheme as it is a replica of Jack Sprague's No. 60. " Watch the No. 60 in action
Mears soars in final Sprint Cup practice at Richmond
RELATED: Practice 1 results " Final practice results Casey Mears set the pace in final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice Friday afternoon at Richmond International Raceway . Mears steered the Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet to a best lap of 120.557 mph on the .75-mile track in final preparation for Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). Saturday's regular-season finale will determine the 16-driver field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. Kyle Larson posted the second-fastest lap in the 85-minute session at 120.096 mph with the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet. Martin Truex Jr ., last weekend's winner at Darlington Raceway , turned the third-fastest lap (119.808 mph) in the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota. Jamie McMurray , currently clinging to the last playoff spot on the provisional Chase grid, was fourth-fastest (119.665 mph) in the Ganassi No. 1 Chevrolet. Tony Stewart , a three-time Richmond winner, completed the top five at 119.612 mph in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevy. Jeff Gordon , making another substitute start as Dale Earnhardt Jr . continues to sit out with concussion-related issues, was 14-fastest in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet. Defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch , who was fastest in opening practice Friday morning, was 17th-fastest in the afternoon session in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota. Coors Light Pole Qualifying for Saturday's 400-lapper is scheduled Friday at 5:45 p.m. ET (NBCSN). Kyle Busch fastest in opening practice Kyle Busch topped the leaderboard in Friday's first Sprint Cup Series practice at Richmond International Raceway at 120.979 mph in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. 'Rowdy' has four wins at the 0.75-mile Virginia track and a sterling 6.9 average finish in 22 starts. Right behind him was last week's Darlington Raceway winner Martin Truex Jr . in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota at 120.649 mph. Rounding out the top five were Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 JGR Toyota, Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 JGR Toyota. Series points leader Kevin Harvick was 13th fastest with a speed of 119.105 mph in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
Stats advance: Analyzing the Coke Zero 400
A statistical look ahead to the Sprint Cup Series return to Daytona