Jamie McMurray hoping to stave off elimination this time around at Dover

By Kyle McFadden

September 30, 2017

DOVER, Del.—For the third year in a row, McMurray heads into the Dover playoff race needing to stave off elimination as the First Round awaits. His teammate, Kyle Larson, meanwhile, sits pretty in second place with a host of playoff points and four wins under his belt.

McMurray doesn’t have that luxury, let alone the same track record as of late. Over the last seven years, the driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Chevrolet has one win—Talladega in 2013—and over the last three years, he’s led just 30 laps.

His counterpart from the same shop? Four wins and nearly 1,000 laps led … this season.

Does McMurray ever wonder where he can get some of that oomph? He shrugged off the question, partially because he knows it’s out of his control.

“I mean, yeah, I’d love to have some of that,” McMurray said. “Kyle [and] those guys have been on a roll. It seems like every type of track we’ve looked to this year, they’ve had a lot of speed and they’re having that kind of year everything they change in the car it seems to make it faster, and it doesn’t go that way every single weekend for everybody else.”

Though wins and consistent top-five turnouts haven’t materialized, McMurray is still having one of his best seasons in terms of efficiency.

His average finish of 13.4 through 28 races is currently the second-best in his 16-year tenure on the Cup circuit. In 2004, he posted a career-best 13.2 average finish over a full 36 races.

Additionally, his 8.6 average start would be a career high and his 14 top 10’s are the most since 2004 (23).

But Larson, driving the same equipment as McMurray and with 11 less years of experience, is on the verge of a title breakthrough behind points leader Martin Truex Jr. while McMurray hopes he leaves Sunday night with championship hopes intact.

“[Kyle Larson] and [Martin Truex Jr.] have basically been the fastest two cars all year long and, certainly, I wish you could put exactly the setup that they have in and have that same speed, but it doesn’t work that way,” McMurray said.

“It’s the same for all the teams. I think [Kyle Busch] is the best car it gets all year long. And if you go and ask those other guys why, [they’ll say] things go better than some years for teams than others, and it’s not as easy as just putting in the exact setup and getting the same result.”

This weekend, the 16-driver playoff will be trimmed to 12 as the Second Round looms.

McMurray sits in 11th, nine points ahead of Ricky Stenhouse and Austin Dillon, both whom are tied for 12th, 10 points in front of 14th-place Ryan Newman, 17 points ahead of 15th-place Kurt Busch and 30 points ahead of 16th-place Kasey Kahne.

Since 2015, McMurray has finishes of seventh, 40th (engine), 21st, fourth and seventh for an average finish of 15.8 at the Monster Mile, which is second-best amongst the six drivers trying to stave off elimination. Kahne’s 8.6 mark is the best out of the six.

“I feel somewhat good about the position that we’re in,” McMurray said. “We ran pretty good here in the spring and the cars that were racing for that cutoff spot, we ran better than most of them here in the spring. [Barring] any issues, we should be fine this weekend.”

McMurray did admit the new structure of added bonus points awarded to top-10 stage finishers befuddles on-the-fly calculations as compared to years in the past.

In 2015, McMurray entered this race 11th in points and one point ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. He finished fourth in that race, but since Earnhardt placed third, it ultimately knocked out McMurray out of the title race. In 2016, an engine soiled advancement opportunity.

At the end of the day, the new points structure doesn’t alter the core of the game plan.

“Two years ago with Dale [Earnhardt] Jr., I knew that all I had to do; if Harvick won the race, I knew for the last 200 laps that all I had to do was out-run Dale Earnhardt Jr,” McMurray said.

“If I finished in front of him, I advanced. If he finished in front of me, he advanced. It’s different this year because people get stage points throughout the race and so it’s not as easy [to calculate].

“I don’t know how many points I’m ahead of the guys behind me. It’s not as easy as just knowing that you need to be X amount of points or positions behind of somebody. If you finish second or third in a stage, that completely changes the points … it makes things more confusing.”

McMurray will have to navigate from the middle of the pack on Sunday, starting in 26th, the lowest of the 16 playoff drivers.

“There’s not a lot you can do about it,” McMurray said of being on the bubble. “You just have to go out there and do your best.”



Austin McFadden/The Racing Experts

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