By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
There won’t be a playoff berth four-peat for the soon-to-be departing Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jamie McMurray.
Needing a win to make the playoffs, McMurray was on the cusp of stealing a win, running inside the top-five, but had to settle for seventh in Monday’s Big Machine Vodka at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the highest among drivers who failed to qualify for the postseason.
The regular season finale saw its turning point on Lap 145 when McMurray stayed out for valuable track position, after teammate Kyle Larson pitted for fresh tires. It propelled McMurray up to third, looking for a second Brickyard victory.
However, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski were the cars to beat, leaving the red Cessna/McDonald’s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in the dust.
McMurray was able to get another chance after a late-race crash involving Landon Cassill and Jeffrey Earnhardt brought out the 10th and final caution of the afternoon.
Starting on the outside lane, the challenge was evident once Clint Bowyer, who was in front of him, couldn’t get going in the three-lap shootout, dashing his last ditch effort of making the postseason as Keselowski kissed the bricks for the first time.
McMurray’s seventh place result marked his second straight top-ten, improving from his ninth place effort at Darlington last week.
However, a 19.0 average finish, four DNFs, and a third at Texas being his lone top-five, it puts the 17-year veteran 21st in points, six spots shy of Alex Bowman, who secured the final berth via points.
McMurray said it was a gamble staying out because of the playoff implications he was facing.
“You just do whatever you have to in order to win and it’s the same strategy that the No. 11 (Hamlin) and No. 14 (Bowyer) were on. I think we all pitted really close,” said McMurray.
“It was hard to pass today and having that track position at the end I didn’t think… I mean I wanted to stay out because it was hard to make up any ground. When the No. 42 (Larson) pitted I was worried about how many behind us might follow him in. We definitely made the right call. If the last caution hadn’t come out we would have run third or fourth, yeah it was a good day.”
Despite missing the postseason, McMurray was amazed of how his team has progressed at two difficult tracks in consecutive weeks.
“It’s been really good. Darlington, I was a little bit surprised because we tire tested there and I didn’t think we were great, but we tire tested here as well and had a great test, so I figured we were going to run well today,” said McMurray.
Outside of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2014, it was also reported by the Associated Press Monday, that his No. 1 ride will become open after the 2018 season.
While an offer has been made that he’ll have a 2019 Daytona 500 ride before shifting into a management role, similar to Dario Franchitti for his INDYCAR team, the 42-year-old hasn’t made a decision.
“I love Jamie McMurray and I want him on my team,” Ganassi told AP. “In a Dario role, though.”
Going forward, the Joplin, Missouri native will head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the South Point 400 Sunday, seeking for another top-ten in his final races for Ganassi.