All season long, Jamie McMurray and the crew of the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet have been at their best on the biggest stages: Victories in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, second at Talladega, Darlington and the Coca-Cola 600.
Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, McMurray and his crew gave it another huge effort, nearly thwarting Kyle Busch’s sweep before claiming third in the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway behind Busch and David Reutimann.
McMurray’s Chevrolet was awfully fast all night at Bristol, put he ultimately lost the race on pit road, where the team struggled all night long. On his first pit stop, McMurray slid through his pit box, but he rebounded and began to mount a strong charge forward. On his second, he lost a lugnut and had to restart at the tail end of the longest line.
During the middle stages of the race, McMurray appeared to have the fastest car, steadily carving through the field, position by position.
After working his way to the front, McMurray finally ran down Busch and took the lead for the first time on Lap 389 of the 500-lap race.
But McMurray’s moment in the spotlight proved frustratingly brief.
On Lap 400, McMurray slowed to pit under green, but while entering pit road, Busch, who was also pitting, dove to the outside and came down pit road ahead of McMurray. Busch maintained that advantage during the pit stop, re-entering the race second to Reutimann while McMurray was third.
“We came in, and I was very self-conscious not to get caught speeding entering pit road,” said McMurray. “If you get a pass through here would just end your night. So I was a little bit cautious coming in, and Kyle was able to get beside me. And then I think he just had a half second or a second quicker pit stop and was able to beat me out.”
And that was the race.
“It was amazing because he beat me out of the pits and just that little bit was like five cars that got stuck in between us,” said McMurray. “My car just didn't feel as good that last run, and I was having a hard time even passing the lap car, so that really let him spread it out.”
McMurray was never again able to lead or even re-take second, and finished the hot August night in a still-decent third place.
“We put the last set of tires on and we did it under green and the front tires just fell flat the whole time,” said McMurray. “I had lots of grip, but the balance just got real tight. ... I knew we had a really good car when Happy Hour was over. ... Honestly, at one point I thought we were going to be the car to beat, but we just didn’t have the speed we needed.”
It was a tough way to get beat.
The one consolation for McMurray is that he moved up to 13th in points, 100 behind Clint Bowyer, with just two races left until the field is set for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Asked about his Chase chances, McMurray said, “We'll just have to wait and see. It certainly is a better position to be in right now for us because there only is one person we have to pass. When you have three or four in between you, you have to hope all of them have something bad happen to all them. But the 33 (Bowyer) is running really well right now. ... I think that team will perform fine, and we will just have to wait and see how it works out.”
LINK> UNOFFICIAL RESULTS: IRWIN TOOLS NIGHT RACE - BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY PDF > UNOFFICIAL DRIVER POINTS: IRWIN TOOLS NIGHT RACE - BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.