By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Jamie McMurray is a veteran driver who has been in NASCAR long enough to see every Chase for the Sprint Cup take place in every varied format that it has had over the years. But up until last season, McMurray — winner of seven Cup Series races in his career — had never made it into NASCAR’s championship playoff series.
Now a year later, McMurray is experiencing the fruits of making it into the Chase in consecutive seasons.
McMurray was fast all week long at Richmond International Raceway, and when the Federated Auto Parts 400 got underway he knew a good finish would all but guarantee his place in the championship hunt.
Although his position shifted throughout Saturday night, as many drivers picked up numerous different strategies as cautions piled up, McMurray had a solid top-10 car all night long. When the driver who had the best shot of dethroning McMurray from the final spot in the Chase — Ryan Newman — crashed on lap 363, it seemed that McMurray would coast to a Chase berth.
That is until Kasey Kahne worked his way to the front in the closing set of restarts. Kahne — who hasn’t won a race all season — mixing it up in the front was particularly unnerving for McMurray fans, because a Kahne victory would have meant that McMurray would be bumped from Chase contention.
Luckily for McMurray, Kahne, who lined up inside the top-five on the final restart would falter over the final few circuits to finish sixth. Meanwhile, McMurray would cruise to the finish line just behind Kahne in seventh, and that would be enough to get him back into the Chase. After the dust settled from Denny Hamlin’s victory burnouts, McMurray explained how much more stressful this Chase berth was to secure than last year’s.
“It’s awesome. Being able to make the Chase is one of those goals that everybody sets at the beginning of the year. When Stewart won at Sonoma and then Buescher won the fog out race or whatever at Pocono and then my teammate, as happy as I was at Michigan, I’m like ‘crap’ that is another spot. It was harder this year to make it,” said McMurray. “I was top 10 in points most of the year last year and then when I got to Richmond we were locked in. “Tonight was pretty stressful. I mean honestly I was more concerned with the No. 5 (Kasey Kahne) after looking at practice. I thought he had a really good car and he showed that he did and they had good pit strategy. I’m glad it worked out. It’s certainly a relieving feeling.”
McMurray securing his place in the Chase means that both Chip Ganassi Racing drivers will have a shot at the championship this season. Now that he’s in the tournament, McMurray feels like his team can do some damage with the speed they’ve shown in recent weeks.
“I feel really good about that,” McMurray explained. “The fact that both of our cars have really been top five cars the last four to five weeks that is so important.”