Jamie McMurray wins wild Daytona 500
In the longest race in Daytona 500 history, it seemed only appropriate that one of the biggest long shots broke through to claim his first Daytona 500 victory.
Jamie McMurray survived potholes, two red flags and a wild double-overtime session to win the 52nd running of the “Great American Race”, getting a push from former teammate Greg Biffle and holding off Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to notch his fourth career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory Sunday at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Biffle came home third, followed by Clint Bowyer and David Reutimann.
McMurray’s victory was as unlikely as they come – despite a victory in the July race at Daytona in 2007, he had never before finished better than 26th in the season opener.
“It is so unreal,” said an emotional McMurray in Victory Lane. “It is unbelievable really. I can't explain it. It is a dream. I mean it really it is.
“I talked to my wife this morning. She was like, you know, ‘What would it mean to you if you won this race today?’ I told her it would be like a dream come true. I'm trying to be genuine and as sincere as I can and not sound cliché. As a kid growing up, this is what you dream of, of being able to win the Daytona 500.”
It was the first victory for McMurray since returning to the team he began his career with before bolting to join Roush Racing in 2006.
The NASCAR-mandated limit of four entries per team left McMurray the odd man out at Roush Racing after the 2009 season, but McMurray found a familiar home after signing with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing to replace the departing Martin Truex, Jr. as driver of the no. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet.
“You know, for me to be in the position that I was four or five months ago, to have Chip (Ganassi) and Felix (Sabates) and Bass Pro Shops welcome me into their organization, it means a lot,” said McMurray. “It's a great way for me to be able to pay those guys back.”
After being left out in the cold at Roush Racing, it was fitting that a former teammate helped push McMurray to the front.
“(Greg) Biffle helped me out,” said McMurray. “I spun the tires on the restart. Greg gave me an unbelievable push down the backstretch. Then when I saw the No. 88 (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) behind me, I thought 'Oh no'. He had a good car and Earnhardt at Daytona is just, I mean they win all the time it seems like. So you never know what to expect.”
Earnhardt, in a move reminiscent of the kind that made his father famous, blasted from tenth spot to second in one lap to come within one car-length of winning his second Daytona 500.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh, well, maybe I can -- maybe I'll gain a little bit on him through three or four or off the exit.’ It didn't happen,” said Earnhardt. “I didn't know where I was, you know, till I really kind of got done almost wrecking down the back straightaway. Then I looked up. There's just one car in front of me - Jamie's gonna win this damn race.
“I was happy for him. He deserves it. They've been through a lot. It's a great team.”
Sunday’s race took over six hours to complete, due to two red flags lasting over two-and-a-half hours to repair a pothole that had developed between turns one and two.
Track workers place a patch over the damaged asphalt which held up for just 40 laps before NASCAR was again forced to bring out the red flag as workers put in another patch.
The second fix held and the race was able to continue. All told the red flags and green-white-checker attempts pushed the race to 208 laps and into the twilight hours with the race ending under the lights.
But it was thanks to the new rules for green-white-checker finishes imposed by NASCAR for the 2010 season made McMurray’s victory possible.
Prior to this season, NASCAR would make only one attempt at a green-white-checker finish, ending the race under caution if a wreck broke out in the overtime session.
For this season, NASCAR announced they would make three attempts to finish the race under green.
The new rules proved golden for McMurray, but not so for Biffle.
Biffle had just taken the lead from Bowyer with three laps to go when Bill Elliott brought out the eighth yellow flag and force the first overtime try.
With Biffle out in front on the first restart, the field came through turn one with Truex, Jr. taking the high side to take away the top spot.
Harvick, who restarted fifth, split the middle and forced Truex, Jr. up the racetrack as McMurray flew up from the seventh spot to duck behind Harvick in second place.
With two laps to go, Kasey Kahne tangled with Robert Richardson to bring the field back in line for another attempt.
On the final restart, McMurray spun his tires on the outside as Harvick pulled away by nearly two car-lengths before Biffle pushed McMurray past on the outside.
With Harvick now falling back in the pack, Earnhardt muscled his way between Bowyer and Biffle to take the second spot as the leader came through turns three and four.
Earnhardt drew right up on McMurray’s bumper, but ran out of time to make a bid for the victory.
Biffle settled for third – his best career Daytona 500 finish and his best finish at the track since winning his first career victory in the July race in 2003.
“I just made a mistake – a lack of experience probably,” said Biffle. “Going into turn one I should have pushed McMurray, instead of trying to make the pass then when I got the big run and try to make the pass coming to the stripe or down the back, instead of down the front.
“Third-place isn’t all that bad, but I’m just so happy for Jamie. I pushed him to the win down the backstretch and I feel pretty good about that.”
Defending series champion Jimmie Johnson started his season on a low note, posting his second Daytona 500 DNF after breaking a rear axle on lap 185. He joined Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Marcos Ambrose among the ten drivers who failed to finish the event.
* Denotes Rookie
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