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McMurray takes BGN at Atlanta

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 27, 2002

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Had there been time, Jamie McMurray would have hopped on an airplane Saturday and gone to Las Vegas.

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Had there been time, Jamie McMurray would have hopped on an airplane Saturday and gone to Las Vegas.

His luck is that good.

McMurray, who burst onto the scene two weeks ago by winning a Winston Cup race in his second career start, had just enough fuel to claim his first Busch Grand National win Saturday in the Aaron's 312 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

"My life has changed so much in the past few weeks," said McMurray, who won in his 66th BGN start. "I believe in luck."

McMurray led only the final lap, inheriting the top spot when Joe Nemechek's No. 87 Chevrolet ran out of fuel. Michael Waltrip's No. 99 Chevrolet was the dominant car, but he was el stop. Waltrip finished second and Mike Mclaughlin third. Nemechek coasted across the finish line sixth.

Greg Biffle was fifth, extending his points lead over Jason Keller to 119 with three races left.

Several people scratched their heads when McMurray was hired last month to drive a Winston Cup car next season for Chip Ganassi Racing. The 26-year-old had never won a Busch race. But his resume looks good now. Subbing for injured Sterling Marlin in Ganassi's No. 40 Dodge, McMurray won the Cup race at Charlotte and stole one Saturday at AMS.

"We didn't have the best car, for sure," McMurray said. "We probably had a seventh-place car. We had a lot of luck on our side. I'll be honest with you, when I saw the 87 run out of gas I almost started crying. I just thought, "What have I done to deserve all this?' "

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY: Atlanta Motor Speedway was the site of the final Winston Cup race of the season from 1987-2001, but gave up that honor to trade its wintry November date for one in October.

Oh, well.

Rain canceled Winston Cup and Busch qualifying Friday, and Saturday's race was run under gray, overcast skies. The forecast for today's NAPA 500 includes afternoon showers.

"You hate it for everyone here at the track because they're great people and it's a great racetrack," Winston Cup driver Dale Jarrett said. "It just seems that their luck with the weather is not very good. You just try to make the most of it."

FULL SPEED AHEAD: Winston Cup points leader Tony Stewart in no way feels like the title is locked up with four races to go. He leads Jimmie Johnson by 82, and four drivers are within 177 of Stewart.

"Four races isn't a lot, obviously, but it is when the points are as close as they are," said Stewart, who starts today from the pole.

"We're basically taking the approach that got us here, and that's to try to win every race. The reason we got here is because we raced hard each week, and that's what's going to carry us the rest of the way, hopefully. The theory is, if it's not broke, don't fix it."

BIG RIG, BIG WINNER: Bill Lewis, who drives the team hauler for Jasper Motorsports, won the International Truck Challenge on Saturday, maneuvering through an obstacle course faster than anyone.

"It was exciting," said Lewis, who won $25,000. "The way they had it laid out, you had to go fast, hit your marks. You had to go fast and try not to tear anything up."

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