McMurray takes the win at Talladega
by Al Muskewitz
Oct 20, 2013 | 9743 views |  0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Because of the early ending to Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 500, Jamie McMurray's win was less than satisfying. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
Because of the early ending to Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 500, Jamie McMurray's win was less than satisfying. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
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TALLADEGA -- Jamie McMurray made half the people in the state of Alabama and all the people in his garage happy Sunday.

The others? You’d have to figure they either support the football program not represented on McMurray’s hood or the driver he held off down the stretch to win the race.

The 37-year Missouri native, driving with a big Auburn logo on the hood of his No. 1 Chevrolet, held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway devoid of a dramatic last-lap pass or major wreck to shuffle the field.

It was one of the cleanest Talladega races in recent years with no real “Big One,” and only two cautions before a final lap dust-up that froze the field and handed McMurray the second win in his last nine Talladega starts.

“It was cool to have Auburn on here,” McMurray said. “When they told me they were going to do the paint scheme here, I’m not a huge college football fan, but I know enough that this would be a 50-50 crowd here of some liking (it) and some not, so it was interesting.

“It was fun to see the fans in the garage area either high-five you or the opposite.”

The win was McMurray’s seventh in 298 Sprint Cup starts and first of the season, ending a 108-race winless streak in the series. He also won the fall race here in 2009 and has now won twice each at Daytona and Talladega.

Earnhardt finished second, his 22nd all-time runner-up finish and 14th top-10 finish in 28 Talladega races. Rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was declared third after a review of the finish – his best finish of the season -- Paul Menard was fourth and Kyle Busch, the only other driver in the Chase for the Cup in the top five, fifth. Spring Talladega winner David Ragan was sixth.

In the bigger picture, Jimmie Johnson overtook Matt Kenseth for the series points lead. Johnson finished 13th in the race and took a four-point lead over Kenseth in the standings with four Chase races remaining. Kenseth, who had a four-point lead entering the race, finished 20th with a car he gave him handling problems throughout the day.

Most of the drivers in the field were content to hang in the back, hoping to avoid the Big One that invariably impacts this race.

But it never happened. The only incident near the finish came on the white flag lap when Austin Dillon got sideways and then airborne, but McMurray and Earnhardt were well ahead of it when it unfolded.

“It’s all kind of a blur as to how we ended up second, but I had no reason to make a move before the last lap being in second place,” Earnhardt said. “I was in perfect position to be patient and wait as long as I wanted to; that’s why we didn’t go any sooner than that.

“I just can’t anticipate a caution coming out every single time we run at Talladega on the last lap, so I just assumed it would go to the checkered and was planning my move on the back straightaway.”

McMurray, the highest rated driver outside of the Chase for the Cup, rode out front the final 14 laps of the race. He led only one lap before overtaking Kyle Busch on Lap 174 and then led a line of single-file racing the rest of the way.

Until then, Johnson, Earnhardt and Kenseth dominated the race, leading a combined 117 of 188 laps. With 10 laps to go, it was McMurray and Earnhardt 1-2 with eight of the other 13 drivers in the Chase running outside the top 10. With six left, Earnhardt and Kyle Busch remained the only Chasers in the top 10.

With about 30 laps to go McMurray was surprised Busch and Jeff Gordon give him an opening to the outside line, but he jumped at it with Stenhouse and Earnhardt closing in. Then it went single file and he found himself counting down laps trying to figure out when Earnhardt was going to make his move.

“I was a little discouraged I couldn’t get to the front earlier in the race,” McMurray said. “I felt like I put myself in a good position a few times and I just could never get the lead. I felt like we had a car that had enough speed in it that if I could get there it would be hard to pass me.”

McMurray said he spent the last 20 laps or so watching the race from his rear-view mirror. He saw Earnhardt on his bumper and every move he made down the stretch was designed to keep him from getting a run on him. Then the wreck came and it was over.

“When we all got single file, I didn’t really think (Earnhardt) could get me if (Dillon) wasn’t pushing him,” McMurray said. “I’m looking in the mirror and I saw the wreck before the spotter said anything.

“Honestly it didn’t cross my mind that the race was going to be over at that point. I thought we’d have a green-white-checkered (finish). You’re so focused on what’s going on that I’m like, we’ve actually taken the white, so if could just get back to the start-finish line, you’d be the winner.”

Dillon, driving the No. 14 car in place of injured Tony Stewart, appeared to get tapped by Stenhouse in the back stretch, got sideways and started lifting from the track where Casey Mears clobbered him from underneath. Dillon and Mears both were checked in the infield car center and released.

In 10 of the previous 11 Cup races here – and 12 of the last 14 -- there had been a multi-car wreck or caution somewhere in the last seven of the scheduled 188 laps – and sometimes even after that. The previous three races all ended in a green-white-checkered finish.

This time, after the white flag came out all the contenders were way out in front of the wreck.

Until that incident there were only two cautions – on Lap 4 for fluid on the track and Lap 80 for a two-car accident in the front stretch. Eleven of the previous 15 races had crashes of nine cars or more.

Up to that point the field was waiting for somebody to make a move. With 10 laps to go the cars lined up single file along the outside line that was the fastest way around and waited to make a move, all the time knowing an ill-timed decision likely would send that car to the back of the freight train with no hope of winning.

“Nobody really wanted to race there at the end when we needed everybody to race,” Brad Keselowski said.

A few cars started to venture out towards the end, but by the time anyone really got going, the Dillon wreck happened and the race had its winner.

For Earnhardt, it’s been 53 races since his last Sprint Cup win and 36 since winning at either Talladega or Daytona.

“We didn’t get an opportunity to see what would have materialized,” Earnhardt said. “It wasn’t the best run in the world, it wasn’t what I dreamed it would be all those last few laps. It was a good enough run to get up to his quarter panel and get beside him and then we would have found out who our friends were.

“I wished I was out front, I really did, but I knew that I had everything to lose and really one spot to gain by going early.”

McMurray doubted if it would have made a difference. In fact, he surmised it might have been a hindrance for both cars if Earnhardt had gotten close.

“Honestly I don’t know if the 88 would have won if he would have gotten to my quarter panel because I feel like it would have slowed both our cars down, especially in the middle of the back stretch,” he said. “Maybe coming to the start-finish line it would have been different. It would have been interesting to see if he could have broken the plane of our bumper where we would have ended up.”

As it turned out, McMurray ended up in Victory Lane.

Al Muskewitz is a sports writer for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.
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