October 21, 2013 — By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service — TALLADEGA, Ala. — Enter the interloper.
In a race dominated early by Matt Kenseth and later by fellow title contenders Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray got to the front at the right time, led the last 15 laps and grabbed victory in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
McMurray was out front, leading Earnhardt in the sixth Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season, when a slight tap from Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s Ford sent Austin Dillon‘s Chevrolet spinning into the outside wall on the backstretch.
Impact from Casey Mears‘ Ford launched Dillon’s car into the air and severely damaged both machines.
The resulting third caution of the race froze the running order with McMurray in front for his first victory of the season (and first since 2010), Earnhardt second and Stenhouse a career-best third.
For the second time in as many weeks, a non-Chase driver went to Victory Lane in a Chase race, the first time non-Chasers have won consecutive Chase races since Tony Stewart won back-to-back at Atlanta and Texas in 2006.
That McMurray won at Talladega for the second time in his career, however, should come as no surprise at all. Four of McMurray’s seven career wins have come at restrictor-plate tracks.
In the last 20 laps, the field spread out single-file in the top lane, and in fact, McMurray — with his Cessna-sponsored No. 1 Chevrolet adorned in Auburn University colors — had surged into the lead from the outside on Lap 174, moving up the track in front of Stenhouse and Earnhardt as the outside line began to move.
“At the plate tracks, to get the right line, it requires a lot of risk, and I felt like I was pretty patient all day, and I saw the 17 (Stenhouse) and the 88 (Earnhardt) coming on the top,” McMurray said. “It just seemed the top was the better place to get hung out than if you got hung out on the bottom. Fortunately, I was able to get myself in position.
“I don’t know how the last lap would have played out, because I could see the 88 trying to set me up and trying to figure out where he could get a run on me, but then I saw the caution come out behind me. Honestly, I wanted to see it end under green, but at the same time, I said if there was a caution, I would be OK with that right now, too.”
Johnson finished 13th, despite leading a race-high 47 of 188 laps, but took over the series lead from Kenseth, who fought an ill-handling car during the second half of the race and finished 20th after dodging the last-lap wreck. Johnson leads Kenseth, who led 32 laps, by four points with four races left in the Chase.
The last-lap move Earnhardt was planning never materialized, thanks to the caution for Dillon’s wreck. Earnhardt, however, said he didn’t want to risk getting shuffled back through the field by making his move too early.
“It’s frustrating, because the worst part about it really is (that) you go home and you’ll spend months thinking about what you could have done to not be second,” Earnhardt said. “That’s the worst part about it. Actually, the process of it happening and doing it isn’t that bad. You’re kind of happy with being competitive, and it was a good result. But you’ll go back and think of a million things you could have tried different …
“We have a last-lap wreck every time, and I guess next time we’re in that situation, we’ll try to go a lap sooner.”
Photo Caption: Austin Dillon goes for a wild ride on the final lap of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway, handing the upset win to Jamie McMurray.
Photo Credits: NASCAR via Getty Images