Editorial

Clock is ticking away for Jamie McMurray
by Pete McCole

July 28, 2004

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Jamie McMurray

The clock is ticking, and Jamie McMurray can hear it ticking away, and with it his chances of being one of the lucky few who will race for the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship.

McMurray is one of several drivers on the outside looking in. He trails Ryan Newman by 134 points for 10th-place in the Championship standings, with only those in the top ten in points after the race at Richmond Int’l Raceway on Sept. 11 having a chance to move on to the 10-race Chase For The Championship.

Now, with just seven races to go before the Chase for the Championship begins at New Hampshire Int’l Raceway on Sept. 19, the pressure is on for the drivers, like McMurray, currently outside the top ten to step up.

“We had a meeting about all the races leading up to Richmond (in September), and we're just going to have to give a little bit more than what maybe we would," McMurray said. “You just can’t afford to have a DNF or ditch somebody off and end up wrecking yourself. I think from here on out we’re going to be thinking about it more than anything.

“We’re heading into the stretch of races that will determine the cut-off positions for the Chase for the Championship. We’re sitting 13th in points right now, but we have the top 10 in reach. We can’t afford to have any more DNF’s. We’ve got to step it up and come out of the box strong each week to get into the top 10.”

2004 is shaping up to be another up-and-down season for McMurray, now in his second full season in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. He has four top-5 and nine top-10 finishes, including a surprising 2nd-place showing at the Infineon Raceway road course. But McMurray’s success this season has been tempered by five DNF’s, the most of his short career.

“Racing is so weird, it goes in cycles,” McMurray said. “It seems like if things are going your way you can hardly screw it up. You know every week your car is good and you’re always contending for the win and then you get another string and you can’t make the right decision or you make a bad pit call or you just can’t make the car handle.

For us it’s not bad, I ran seventh this week and we are totally disappointed with ourselves. I think it’s good to still run in the top 10 and be upset.”

After shocking the NASCAR world by winning his first race in just his second start back in October of 2002, McMurray has gone nearly two years - 60 races - without making another trip to victory lane in the Nextel Cup Series

“I’ve had like 50 other chances and I can’t win another one,” McMurray joked. “We’ve come close a few times. It’s so hard to win one of these and that’s why it was such a big deal to be able to win in your second start because it’s so tough to win these races. You can have the best car and not win the race or if things go your way you don’t have to have the best car and you can win the race.

“It’s tough and then when you see these guys win like Jimmy (Johnson) and Junior (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) winning three this year. I mean it’s incredible that those guys have been able to do that. When things go your way that’s what happens. This whole sport is a huge cycle; you just have to hope that it’s your turn.”

Poor finishes in the last six races, including the DNF’s at Daytona and Michigan, have dropped McMurray from 11th to 13th in the standings and, aside from his second-place showing at Sonoma, have been frustrating for McMurray.

“We basically have said that we just couldn’t have any more DNF’s from here on out. But then we blew up at Michigan, and then didn’t finish at Daytona, so we had two DNF’s in the last six races, which is very disappointing.”

For McMurray, his best chances to make up ground may lay ahead with upcoming races at Indianapolis, Bristol and California – tracks where he scored three of his five top-5 finishes last season. All he needs is a little good luck on his side – and a little bad luck on everyone else’s.

“We’ve just got to keep fighting. There’s still, what, six-seven races before it’s over? You never know what’s going to happen in this sport,” said McMurray. “I never would have thought we wouldn’t finish two of the last races. Maybe those guys ahead of us will have that same problem and get us back to be close enough to make the cut.”

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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