Jamie McMurray headed into Dover needing a spectacular run to move on to the Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Making just his first Chase appearance, McMurray struggled to crack the top 10 in the first two races. His best finish came at New Hampshire when the No 1 team finished in the 14th position. At Chicago the team lacked speed and was not able to find the right setup and be competitive.
It looked good until the last caution for a blown engine by Landon Cassill. After beating Dale Earnhardt, Jr. out of the pits with 80 laps to go it looked as if McMurray may pull the upset and take down another member of Hendrick Motorsports.
He stayed in front of the No. 88 for the first 50 laps of the next run, but lost it on the final restart.
After having his first top-10 finish since Michigan in June, McMurray lost a tiebreaker to Earnhardt. in the final laps at Dover.
“I never expected the No. 88 to get by me on the outside,” McMurray said in disbelief of Earnhardt passing him for third. “He did a really good job, and once he got in front of me he was just hard to pass.”
“What a battle we were having. The ironic thing was the No. 4, No. 18 and No. 88 were the cars we were racing to get in, and they were the three ahead of me at the very end.”
Over the years, McMurray and Earnhardt formed a tight bond off the race track. McMurray has even won an Xfinity Series race in a JR Motorsports car at Atlanta. Though the two are friends, it didn’t matter who was in the tiebreaker situation with McMurray he gave it his best shot.
“That was a deserving pass he put on me to advance into the next round,” McMurray said. “My car wasn’t that good on the outside and I didn’t expect anyone else’s to be that good. I know that I was better than him the run before. I went through that corner as good as I could.”
“I’m not disappointed. Our goal coming into the year was making it into the Chase. The unfortunate part is that we didn’t have good enough cars in the first two races. We ran great today. We got a lap down and Matt (McCall crew chief) made a good call and making it a top five car. Our pit crew did an awesome job, we just didn’t run well the first two races. I really thought just being consistent would get us in and it was close, but we just needed one more point.”
The rest of the season sets up good for McMurray. He is a former winner at Charlotte and Talladega. At Phoenix earlier this season he finished a season-best second. There is no doubt that the No. 1 team would have loved to move on and compete for McMurray and team owner Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates first Sprint Cup championship. However, McMurray still has goals for the remainder of 2015.
“Finishing fifth in points is what we want to do,” McMurray said regarding his goals for the remainder of the season. “If we can run like this we’ll have a realistic shot of doing that.”