McMurray Wins Talladega Chess Match
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Jamie McMurray must be good at chess.
McMurray made all the right moves on the chessboard in the closing laps of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 500, allowing him to score his first victory of the 2013 season.
The 37-year-old native of Missouri was a non-factor most of the day while Chase contenders Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. battled for the race lead at the front of the pack. But with less than 30 laps left McMurray began to make his move.
On lap 175 McMurray moved his Cessna-backed Chevrolet SS to the top of the podium, with Earnhardt, Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in hot pursuit. With 10 laps left most of the lead pack moved to the top line, forming one long single file line with only a few cars darting to the bottom near the back of the field.
With the field single file, McMurray continued to hold the lead as Earnhardt lurked behind him. Soon the white flag was waving and McMurray was one lap away from victory at Talladega.
Through turns one and two fourth-place Stenhouse became the first driver to look for an opening, peaking low below Dillon’s Chevrolet. Dillon moved to block, but his Chevrolet suddenly turned sideways as he exited the corner in front of most of the field.
Most of the field was able to avoid Dillon, but the No. 13 Ford of Casey Mears had nowhere to go and slammed into Dillon’s Chevrolet. Dillon’s car end up sailing through the air before landing back on all four wheels. By then the caution flag had waved and McMurray was coasting to the checkered flag.
“I knew that our Cessna Chevy was good in practice. I just could never really get in the right line,” said McMurray, who led the final 16 laps. “I saw the 17 (Stenhouse) and the 88 (Earnhardt) coming on the top and it just seemed like the top was the better place to get hung out than if you got hung out on the bottom.
“Fortunately I was able to get myself in position (to win). I don’t know how the last lap would have played out. I could see the 88 kind of trying to set me up and figure out where he could get a run on me,” McMurray said.
Earnhardt, who ended up second, said he had a working plan going into the last lap to try and get around McMurray and steal the victory. He never got the chance.
“We were kind of forming our run around the middle of one and two and I think we had a really good head of steam coming off of turn two and they got together behind us and that was that,” Earnhardt said. “I was going to try something down the back straightaway but I just never got the chance.”
Stenhouse ended up third, his best finish of his rookie campaign, followed by Paul Menard and Kyle Busch. Spring Talladega winner David Ragan, David Gilliland, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer completed the top 10.
Sunday’s race featured 52 lead changes and 20 different leaders.
After leading the most laps, Johnson found himself shuffled to the back in the closing laps of the race. He was able to recover and unofficially finish 13th, good enough to make him the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship leader by four points over Kenseth.
“The outside lane got going and everybody jumped up in it. You just don’t know if people are going to chase the bottom or the top,” said Johnson, who led a race-high 47 laps. “We rallied back and got a few more spots. Most importantly (we) got back in front of the 20 (Kenseth) and missed the wreck on the backstretch.”
Kenseth dominated the opening two runs of the race, but found himself battling an ill-handling race car in the second half of the race. He unofficially finished 20th.
“It was really bizarre. Typically handling is a non-issue here but I just got so loose I couldn’t even hang on to it,” Kenseth said. “I pretty much had to run in the back for two runs, which was disappointing. We finally got it fixed on that last run but we only had 20 laps to get back up there. I really needed to be up there like we were early.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway next Sunday, a track where Johnson has eight-career victories.