Cory Mccartney
Thursday April 22nd, 2010

1. Days removed from Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray's Kleenex-worthy love fest, I asked about the past; not his, but that of the previous three men to drive into Victory Lane at the season opener.

Matt Kenseth, last season's Daytona winner, didn't make the Chase; the same for Ryan Newman (2008), who finally snapped his 0-for skid two weeks ago at Phoenix, and Kevin Harvick still hasn't taken the checkered since the '07 Great American Race. Was he sensing a trend?

"That is the media and their stat guy going to work," he said. "I don't know that you can really -- I don't really put any thought into basing [my season] on who won the previous Daytona 500s."

But just like the last three men to take home the Harley J. Earl Trophy, McMurray's 500-winning season has been wrought with frustration. Aside from an eighth-place at Bristol, Big Mac has five finishes of 29th or worse to his credit, including a crash with Juan Pablo Montoya at Las Vegas that knocked out both of the Earnhardt/Ganassi rides.

It all amounts to McMurray sitting 21st in the point standings, but there's a potential season-saving opportunity on the horizon Sunday at Talladega. McMurray is one of the best restrictor-plate racers on the circuit, having won the spring race at the Home of the Big One, where he has a career four top-fives and five top-10's.

While three of the next four stops on the schedule (Charlotte, Darlington and Dover) have given McMurray a win and eight combined top-5s, there is the specter of Richmond looming. It is McMurray's worst track thanks to an average finish of 25.6. If he suffers another setback at 'Dega and has his typical struggles at Richmond, he could be doomed to repeat the history of the last two 500 winners.

Nine races do not a season make, but the pressure is clearly on McMurray this weekend.

2. So David Reutimann, who sits 30th in the points and has just one top-5 finish this season, was offered a contract extension by Michael Waltrip Racing -- and he hasn't signed? What gives? Could The Franchise be bolting the, well, franchise?

It would seem a no-brainer that Reutimann sign considering his struggles in '10, but it may be that Reutimann is just waiting to see just how silly the Silly Season gets. With Shell/Pennzoil leaving Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress Racing, and Sam Hornish Jr.'s future in question at Penske Racing, there could be more appealing opportunities than at MWR. But Reutimann is most likely waiting to see what happens with the most sought after free-agent-to-be, Budweiser, which recently met with MWR brass and could bring a whole new sense of security to Michael Waltrip's start-up company.

But don't get too caught up in Reutimann having not re-signed yet. Ultimately it would be hard to imagine Reutimann not re-upping, considering it was Waltrip that gave him his big break.

3,822: Jeff Burton's green-flag passes at Talladega, 358 more than second-place Martin Treux Jr.

3: Consecutive top-10 finishes at the track, the series' current longest streak.

0: Burton is winless in 32 career starts at the oval.

While McMurray will be a threat to reach Victory Lane and Harvick, who has seven top 10s at 'Dega and showed at Daytona that RCR is back in the restrictor-plate game, could also win, I'm taking Dale Earnhardt Jr. Yes, he's always the chic pick when it comes to superspeedways -- he has five wins and 11 top-10s on the track -- but Junior's past exploits at Talladega are only part of the reason I'm taking him. Since the well-publicized radio blow-up at Bristol, he has three finishes within the top nine; Dale Jr. is building toward something and it could all come to a head at his best track.

Racing Fan's video series continues with Aussie-native Marcos Ambrose, who discusses other Aussie drivers (including Mel Gibson's Mad Max), the art of eating a Nutty Bar, how to cook a Honey Bun on the grill, Vegemite and more. For more Inside The Helmet, check out the archive. Also, I'll be at Talladega this week to interview Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Martin Treux Jr., David Reutimann, Sam Hornish Jr., Justin Allgaier and Colin Braun. If you have a driver-specific question you'd like to see answered, e-mail me.

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