Jamie McMurray: A Chase Sleeper

A 2nd place finish, a pole, and Sprint Showdown win highlight Jamie McMurray's 2013 turnaround. Can he catapult these results into a Chase bid?

A 2nd place finish, a pole, and Sprint Showdown win highlight Jamie McMurray’s 2013 turnaround. Can he catapult these results into a Chase bid?

Ask any NASCAR experts about who they think will make the Chase, and you’ll probably hear the same names. One name likely missing from those lists is Jamie McMurray. He’s never made the Chase, so why should this year be any different?

As the Sprint Cup Series heads to Daytona, a track he owns two victories at, Jamie enters with momentum after a much needed 2nd place finish at Kentucky. 2011 and 2012 were disasters for both Earnhardt-Ganassi cars, but McMurray has put together a solid 2013 campaign, and it could have been much better if not for mechanical issues at Charlotte, Dover, and Michigan while running top 10 at the time of the incidents. Those three potential top tens turned into disappointing finishes of 19th and 33rd twice. Those three races alone account for more than 50+ potential points lost, enough to put McMurray top 10 in the standings. That doesn’t even take into account Richmond and Sonoma, two other potential top 10s ruined by issues.

Since the Chase was implemented in 2004, McMurray has been on the outside looking in every year. He narrowly missed the Chase in 2004 and 2005, but hasn’t come as close since. 2013 may be the year, if he can avoid the bad luck that has plagued him this year. With 9 races to go until the Chase cutoff, McMurray finds himself consistently in fast cars capable of top 10s, or as Kentucky showed, wins.

Here’s the breakdown for McMurray over the next 2 months, as he aims to make his first Chase:
  • Daytona – 2 wins, 4 top 10s; best finish of 13th since Daytona 500 win. He either finishes up front or gets caught up in the big one.
  • New Hampshire – 4 top 10s (only 1 since 2005 though; 3rd place in 2010)
  • Indianapolis* – 5 top 10s, 3 top 5s, 1 win (2 top 5s in last 3 years) had a successful test earlier this week.
  • Pocono – 4 top 10s – don’t expect much more than a top 15 here.
  • Watkins Glen – 2 top 10s, 6th in 2010 – good road racer, but lacks the good finishes to show it.
  • Michigan – 4 top 10s (headed for 5th top 10 in June before flat tire – should be a good race for Jamie)
  • Bristol* – 9 top 10s – one of McMurray’s best tracks – 10th place avg finish in past 8 races
  • Atlanta – 4 top 10s – only one since 2005 (2008); I expect better though, intermediate tracks have been particularly strong this season for Jamie.
  • Richmond – one of McMurray’s weaker tracks, only 3 top 10s – appeared headed for 4th top 10 in April before a pit strategy gamble backfired in the last 5 laps.
With 9 races to go until the Chase field is set, McMurray finds himself 19th in the Sprint Cup standings, 42 points out of the top 10. His 2nd place finish at Kentucky chopped 16 points off his deficit. And, if not for radiator issues at Charlotte and Dover, along with a cut tire at Michigan, McMurray could be sitting comfortably in the top 10 in the standings. Jamie has run much better than his points position shows.

Of these 9 races, I see Indianapolis and Bristol, along with Michigan, as great opportunities for McMurray to not only run up front, but to contend for wins. I’m not as optimistic about Pocono or New Hampshire, but top 15s should not be out of the question.

Ultimately, McMurray’s Chase hopes depend on mechanical issues out of the #1 team’s control. They have been quick enough and run well enough to be in the top 10 in Sprint Cup standings, but luck is a large part of racing. With a little good luck on his side, Jamie Mac could be standing on stage after Richmond with 11 other drivers hoping to win the title.

If he can make the Chase, watch out. Jamie’s been great at all mile and a half tracks this year, and could be a sleeper pick for a top 5 finish in the final standings.

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