Jamie McMurray: A Chase Sleeper

July 3, 2013
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.

James Buescher Wins Nationwide Series Season opener

February 25, 2012

He may not be running for the Nationwide Series championship, and he maybe shouldn’t have even finished in the top 10, but that didn’t stop James Buescher today.

Nationwide Series Story

The Nationwide Series heads to Phoenix next weekend along with the Sprint Cup Series.

Daytona 500 Starting Grid is Set

February 23, 2012

The starting lineup for the 54th running of the Daytona 500 is set. After the Gatorade Duel qualifying races, several drivers are left smiling while others think about what could have been. Before the races began, we knew that 39 of the 43 cars in the Daytona 500 were set. The top 35 in owner points were locked in, along with defending Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne, Tony Raines, and David Stremme locked themselves into the field with their qualifying speeds on Sunday. Terry Labonte was assured a spot by using the Past Champion’s Provisional if he was unable to race his way in. That left 10 cars vying for 6 spots in the two qualifying races.

In Duel #1, Tony Stewart picked up the win over Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose, as mayhem ensued behind. Danica Patrick, making her Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend, didn’t take long to find trouble as she pounded the inside wall on the final lap of the first duel after contact from other cars. Although the wreck looked horrendous on TV, she walked away and will simply start at the rear of the field on Sunday. Juan Pablo Montoya, Paul Menard, and David Gilliland were all wiped out in an early wreck, but they will all still race in the Daytona 500 on Sunday based on their owner points, however they’ll all have to start in the rear of the field. Michael Waltrip lost control soon after pitting, and slammed into the outside wall in the first set of corners. He was unhurt in the accident, but he will not be in the Daytona 500 this year, which will make for the first Daytona 500 without him in over 20 years. Michael McDowell and Robby Gordon were both able to race their way into the 500 with their top 10 finishes in the first duel, a great feat for both underfunded, single-car teams.

The second Gatorade Duel was certainly calmerand strung out as Matt Kenseth made a late pass on teammate and outside pole sitter Greg Biffle to win, which is Roush Fenway Racing’s first ever Gatorade Duel win in the team’s 25 year history. Kenseth saw the checkered flag first, followed by Regan Smith and Jimmie Johnson.

The six drivers that failed to make the Great American Race were Kenny Wallace, Mike Wallace, Michael Waltrip, Bill Elliott, Robert Richardson, and JJ Yeley.

The starting line-up for the 54th Daytona 500:

  1. Carl Edwards – 99
  2. Greg Biffle – 16
  3. Tony Stewart – 14
  4. Matt Kenseth – 17
  5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 88
  6. Regan Smith – 78
  7. Marcos Ambrose – 9
  8. Jimmie Johnson – 48
  9. Jeff Burton – 31
  10. Elliott Sadler – 33
  11. *Michael McDowell – 98
  12. Joey Logano – 20
  13. Kevin Harvick – 29
  14. Kyle Busch – 18
  15. AJ Allmendinger – 22
  16. Jeff Gordon – 24
  17. *Robby Gordon – 7
  18. Ryan Newman – 39
  19. Jamie McMurray – 1
  20. Kasey Kahne – 5
  21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 6
  22. Mark Martin – 55
  23. Brad Keselowski – 2
  24. *Dave Blaney – 36
  25. David Ragan – 34
  26. Martin Truex Jr. – 56
  27. Aric Almirola – 43
  28. Kurt Busch – 51
  29. Danica Patrick – 10
  30. Clint Bowyer – 15
  31. Denny Hamlin – 11
  32. Bobby Labonte – 47
  33. David Gilliland – 38
  34. *Joe Nemechek – 87
  35. Juan Pablo Montoya – 42
  36. Casey Mears – 13
  37. Paul Menard – 27
  38. David Reutimann – 93
  39. Landon Cassill – 83
  40. **Trevor Bayne – 21
  41. **David Stremme – 30
  42. **Tony Raines – 26
  43. ***Terry Labonte – 32

*Outside of the top 35, raced in via the Duels
**Outside of top 35, got in based on qualifying speed
***Past Champion’s Provisional

The 54th annual Daytona 500 gets underway this Sunday, February 26 with the green flag flying shortly after noon central time.

Daytona: Speedweeks 2012

February 23, 2012

Kyle Busch saved it! And won the Bud Shootout?!

Carl Edwards scored his first ever Daytona 500 pole.

Trevor Bayne locked himself into the 54th Great American Race and will try to defend his 2011 win.

And these are just a few of the headlines from an already exciting Speedweeks. The Gatorade Duels later today will determine the starting grid for Sunday’s race, which is setting up to be one for the ages. The tandem drafting which dominated restrictor plate racing in 2011 seems to have taken a back seat to the pack racing NASCAR fans had grown used to. When the checkered flag falls Sunday afternoon, a Daytona 500 champion will be crowned and another Speedweeks will have come and gone.

Tune in to “On the Brinck” Monday night on Fusion 93 KMSC at 7:00 CDT as I recap the weekend with help from ThePaceLap.com’s Nathan Butler.

Until then, boogity boogity boogity boys, we’re going racing again!

(If you missed the finish to the Bud Shootout, do yourself a favor and check it out here.)