Jamie McMurray might not make the Chase. It looks like he might not have a shot at this season’s Sprint Cup championship.
Maybe that doesn’t really matter.
McMurray will have a career year, regardless.
McMurray, boosted by pit strategy that, ironically, spoiled the day for his teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, won Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to score a unique double. McMurray also won the season-opening Daytona 500.
Team owner Chip Ganassi also had a landmark day. With McMurray’s win, Ganassi completed a remarkable trifecta, his teams having won the Daytona 500, the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same year.
“I don’t know what to say,” Ganassi said. “I need oxygen.”
McMurray became the third driver – after Dale Jarrett and Jimmie Johnson – to win both the 500 and the 400 in the same year.
Crew chief Bono Manion’s decision to change two tires instead of four during a pit-stop round with 17 laps to go put McMurray in position to win the race. On that same pit cycle, Montoya’s team took four tires, a decision that would haunt Montoya and his crew on what otherwise was a great day.
Montoya, who also drives for Ganassi, was on his way to banishing the demons from a 2009 Brickyard 400 that slipped away from him when another gremlin popped up to spoil another Indy day.
Montoya had led a race-high 86 laps and was in front on lap 137 (of 160) when a debris caution sent the field to the pits.
Six drivers – McMurray, Stewart, Harvick, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton – left the pits after two-tire changes and moved into the front six positions in front of Montoya, whose team changed four tires.
A few laps later, Montoya, racing hard in an attempt to make up the deficit, crashed hard into the turn four wall, damaging the right rear of his car. He collected Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the crash.
Montoya’s day was over. For the second straight year, he had the field’s best car. For the second straight year, he went home without the trophy.
When the final green flag flew with 11 laps to go, Harvick had the lead, but McMurray sprinted to the front quickly and stayed in front the rest of the way. He won by 1.391 seconds.
The race began in less-than-classic style as seven cars, including that of victory threat Kyle Busch, were involved in a crash in the second turn. The incident began with a slide by former Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr., and, seconds later, Busch and other drivers were negotiating a mess.
Numerous cars pitted in the early laps with overheating problems, some apparently caused by grass and mud kicked up onto the cars’ front grilles because of splitter contact with the grassy area adjacent to the turn aprons.
Montoya, the pole winner, was the dominant driver at the race’s halfway point, having led 46 of the first 80 laps. Biffle was the only other serious up-front threat over that span, leading 22 laps.
RACE RESULTS: BRICKYARD 400 - INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
Johnson, winner of the previous two 400s, was mostly forgotten in this one. He had problems early in the race and was almost lapped on the track. With 43 laps to go, he pitted so that the No. 48 team could change a shock and was lapped while the work was being completed. He finished 22nd.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.