McMurray beats Busch in Charlotte
Out of the running for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Jamie McMurray happily played the role of the spoiler Saturday night, beating out a field of championship contenders to score his third victory of the season in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
McMurray passed Busch on the final restart with 21 laps to go and quickly pulled away to a half-straightaway lead as Busch had his hands full holding off Jimmie Johnson, allowing McMurray to run unchallenged the finish and ruin what a season-saving performance for Busch.
Starting from the 27th position, McMurray hung around the top ten for much of the second half of the race, leading three times for 65 laps including the final 21 after getting around Busch.
“You just drive your heart out and if you have the car, then you are able to make those passes and if you don’t, you don’t make the passes,” said McMurray. “We had a better car than Kyle at the end. He was better at certain stages during the race but at the end of the race we had the best car.”
Busch was barely able to hang onto second over Johnson, with fellow Chase contenders Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle rounding out the top five in what turned out to be a disastrous night for many of the Chase drivers.
McMurray’s victory was the sixth of his career, coming at the site of his first Sprint Cup victory here in October of 2002 in just his second career start filling in for the injured Sterling Marlin, ironically driving for Chip Ganassi, who he re-united with this season after spending the last four years with Roush Racing.
Since coming back to Ganassi, McMurray has won the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500, and have now come full circle.
“Yes, it has been an unbelievable year,” said McMurray. “I certainly can’t thank Chip (Ganassi) and everybody enough. We’ve had a really good season and we’ve been blessed to have some really good runs in some bigger races. Really, really excited about our success this season.
“You know, when I won here in 2002, you're in a situation where I don't know that there's any race car driver wants someone else to get in their car and win, much less a kid that's never….won on the truck or the Nationwide Series, or the Busch Series at the time, so I knew that that was hard on Sterling. I knew that, as soon as I get in victory lane, I remember telling myself you need to be very gracious and be respectful to Sterling, because this is hard for him. He's at home with a broken neck.
“So you know, and you win with another team, it's not really your team. So tonight is completely different. I feel this is my team and it's a team that has been put together over the past 11 months, 12 months, and it's mine. And it's a completely different feeling.”
McMurray’s good fortune came at the expense of Kyle Busch, who watched his chance for his first career Charlotte victory disappear when the final caution flag waved.
After all but writing himself out of the championship hunt following a blown engine last week at Fontana, Busch battled to the front looking to breathe new life into his title hopes, leading a race-high 217 laps with a dominating car that no one seemed to be able to touch.
It was Busch who was out front, running away from the field with a nearly 1.5 second lead when the ninth caution flag waved for debris on lap 310.
Busch elected to stay out – as did most of the top ten – but couldn’t hold off McMurray on the restart as the no. 1 Chevrolet powered past in turns one and two.
All Busch could do was watch as McMurray pulled away - and with a mirror full of Jimmie Johnson, Busch seethed with fury in the racecar, letting loose a string of profanities over his radio directed at NASCAR for throwing the late caution flag.
“Just very, very frustrating,” said Busch. “It was a great feeling there all up until about 20 to go when we got a caution and then got beat on the caution and then in the ensuing laps to the end. I don't know what the (final) caution was for. You know, apparently there was a mouse that ran across the racetrack or something.
“And the restart, just trying to get going there, Jamie got a good restart, and I don't know if he got pushed from Jimmie or not, but he had a good run, good momentum getting into turn one. Then I got there and my car pushed up to the racetrack and got to the plate and he was already gone, nothing I could do.”
Johnson’s third-place finish was a characteristic come-from-behind rally after a solo spin early in the race. Johnson managed to keep the fenders on the car and fought his way back to the front of the field, electing not to pit during a round of stops on lap 123.
Johnson’s crew made several adjustments to the car all night, putting the no. 48 Chevy back up front on lap 189 and keeping Johnson at the top of the point standings.
“I'm so relieved,” said Johnson. “I'm glad to be sitting in here in third spot and leading the points. It's amazing what goes through your mind when you're sliding sideways on the back straightaway. I saw my hard work for the year and dreams of being a five-time champion go away, and fortunately I got the car turned away from the inside wall.
“At that point kind of scared me straight. Like, okay, just stay smooth, we can salvage a decent finish out of today. Maybe we don't win, maybe we don't be in the Top-5, but I know we can get a good finish out of this if we can keep our composure and we did.”
Unfortunately, not all of the Chase contenders were so lucky.
Ryan Newman got the ball rolling early in lap two with a spin that sent the field scrambling, resulting in damage to several Chase drivers including Hamlin and Tony Stewart.
Kurt Busch spun on lap 24, but was able to continue on. Just 10 laps later, Johnson spun coming off turn two but also had little damage to his car.
The same couldn’t be said for Kasey Kahne, who looped his Ford Fusion on lap 125 ad collected Sam Hornish, Jr. in the process, ending the night for both drivers.
Polesitter Jeff Gordon led the opening seven laps looking to end a 59-race winless drought, but he too had a disappointing night after losing power on lap 190 and then endured an ill-handling race car and a pit-road speeding penalty to limp to a 23rd-place finish.
Through it all, Johnson managed to leave Charlotte smiling with the points lead by 41 over Hamlin. Kevin Harvick is third, followed by Jeff Gordon while Kyle Busch jumped four places to fifth.
* Denotes Rookie
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