Mark Zeske
Wednesday January 24th, 2007

There isn't much time between the crowning of the champion at Homestead in November and when events start at Daytona International Speedway the following year. But even with NASCAR's quick winter, there is enough change taking place to pick out the winners and losers.

Here's a look at who had the best and worst of the 2007 offseason.

Family Men: Four-time Cup champ Jeff Gordon announced during the winter months that he and his new wife, Ingrid Vandebosch, are expecting their first child in early July while Greg Biffle, who will open the '07 season with a new chief and crew, will start the season with a fiancé. On Christmas Eve, Biffle gave a gift-wrapped engagement ring to longtime girlfriend Nicole Lunders. Biffle then popped the question before Lunders could say anything. Lunders said yes, though no date has been publicly announced.

Ginn Racing -- Formerly MB2 Motorsports, the team changed its name after a majority stake was purchased by Bobby Ginn. During this offseason, Ginn was able to hire Gary DeHart as director of shop operations and land Panasonic as a sponsor to the No. 14 of Sterling Marlin. Other drivers for Ginn in '07 will be Joe Nemechek, Mark Martin and Regan Smith.

Jamie McMurray: Competing for Roush Racing for the first time in '06, McMurray floundered and went through three crew chiefs. In '07, McMurray will race with Larry Carter. In addition, Todd Zeilger moved from the No. 6 Ford to be McMurray's crew chief, engineer Derek Stamets joined McMurray from Penske Racing and Billy John joined the team as a tire specialist. With all of that help, McMurray should rebound from a poor '06.

Morgan-McClure: The Morgan-McClure team ended '06 wondering if it would even field a team this season, but could be in better shape than in any the last three or four seasons. The team signed veteran driver Ward Burton and sponsor State Water Heaters. They likely won't race for a championship in '07, but at least they'll race.

Petty Enterprises: NASCAR's grand team announced this week that Kyle Petty was going to continue to race and that the team was moving to Charlotte, the hub of stock-car racing. Both were good moves. Petty had already announced that Marathon Oil has signed a two-year deal to sponsor Kyle's car and that Richard Petty had signed a landmark deal with Goody's Headache Powders. The deal with Goody's guaranteed Petty that he would be a spokesperson for the company for the rest of his life, the first such lifetime deal in the history of NASCAR.

Teresa Earnhardt: The owner of Dale Earnhardt Inc. had perhaps the worst offseason in NASCAR history. Sure, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. often seems to focus on enjoying his celebrity status more than he does winning NASCAR races, but you can't throw darts at the most popular thing to come down the pipe since the automatic transmission. And when Mr. Popular comes out and says that you are a stepmom the likes of the one in Cinderella, you just can't win.

Jimmie Johnson: Johnson capped off perhaps the finest Cup season ever by winning the series title in '06. Of course, things can only go downhill when you are at racing's highest peak. Not even champion for a month, Johnson broke his wrist when he fell off a golf cart during a celebrity golf tournament. Nobody figured that it would take such a short time for Johnson to struggle, but it seems horseplay has already become a bigger factor than horsepower for J.J..

Yates Racing: Last year was the first in 17 years that Yates didn't sponsor a winner. Adding Ricky Rudd as a driver is a step in the right direction, though the 50-year-old sat out the '06 season and nobody has any idea how good he'll be. Rudd wasn't hired until the week of Christmas and was basically seen as the last driver still standing. Yates' other driver is the unproven David Gilliland, whose best finish in 15 starts in '06 was 15th. But Yates does have both of its cars with a major sponsor, even if Masterfoods USA is paying the bill for both.

Ryan Newman: Newman had teamed with crew chief Matt Borland and lead engineer Michael Nelson for seven successful seasons at Penske. Things cracked in '06, finally breaking completely during the offseason. Borland will be the crew chief for Dale Jarrrett this year while Nelson moves up to be Newman's crew chief. Borland was burnt out last year, so perhaps his absence will ultimately be good for the team, but look for an adjustment period.

Martin Truex, Jr.: The two-time Busch champ and Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver was spotted urinating on his own car near Daytona International Speedway. Unfortunately, the man doing the spotting was a Volusia County Beach Patrol officer, who gave Truex a ticket for disorderly conduct.

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