NASCAR Sprint Cup: Million Dollar Upset; Jamie McMurray Uses Strategy Game to Win 30th NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race

Jacob Seelman Featured, NASCAR, Southeast 0 Comments

CONCORD, N.C. — story by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online — Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images photo — If anyone had picked Jamie McMurray Saturday in Las Vegas to win the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, they might have been about as rich as McMurray and his Chip Ganassi Racing team are now.

McMurray, out of Joplin, MO, used brilliant pit strategy by first staying out and then taking only two tires on two straight segment breaks to bolster his average finish high enough to come onto pit road in the top two for the final mandatory four-tire pit stop in Saturday night’s All-Star classic.

Restarting on the front row, McMurray then outdueled Carl Edwards side-by-side for three straight laps before clearing the No. 99 Fastenal Ford and streaking away to his first career All-Star Race victory — and the million dollar prize that came with it.

“It was three or four of the hardest laps I’ve ever driven in my racing career,” McMurray said. “Keith did an unbelievable job. He was a huge secret in the garage (as an engineer at Hendrick Motorsports), and I’m so glad that I get the opportunity to work with him. We’ve had good cars all year long. We had some bad luck.”

“But this is one of those races that makes up for a lot of bad times.”

McMurray held off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick for the win. Harvick, just as he did a week ago in Kansas against Jeff Gordon, charged to second in the waning laps but could not catch the Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet and came home 0.696 seconds short.

“I thought we had a really fast race car and did all the things we needed to do to put ourselves in position on the race track and just couldn’t get it done on pit road tonight,” Harvick said. “We just didn’t make it happen at the end and ran out of time as we got to the closing laps.”

Matt Kenseth, who won the 2004 edition of the event, came home third on the night, with former All-Star champions Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2000) and Carl Edwards (2011) completing the top five at the checkered flag.

The race began clean and green, with Edwards, who netted the pole for the 30th running of NASCAR’s All-Star night in qualifying, jetting out to the early lead. That gap would vanish by Lap 9 though, when Kyle Busch powered to the inside of the Edwards Ford in Turn 2 to claim the top spot.

Edwards would start slipping by the end of the first segment, with Jeff Gordon, Harvick and Kasey Kahne all slipping past by the time the field was frozen at Lap 20.

Denny Hamlin would stay out on a track position gamble to claim the lead, and Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch, fresh off his first qualifying run for this year’s Indianapolis 500. all took two tires on pit road to position themselves in the front two rows for the restart.

Edwards would rocket to third by Lap 23 once the green was displayed again, but the race’s first caution was displayed on Lap 26 for an ugly incident sparked when Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch made contact on the backstretch. Busch would spin in Turn 3 and then pound a helpless Joey Logano when he slid back down the racetrack. Both Busch and Logano would be done for the night.

“We had a good run through (Turns) 1 and 2 and off (Turn) 2,” Busch explained after the accident. “Kurt (Busch) got real bottled up on the outside and slowed down, so I knew I was clear to go to the bottom and swoop down and try to get underneath Bowyer.”

“And when I did, he blocked me, and I hit him, and he got squirrely, and then I was still under him, and it hit me and turned me around the wrong way on the backstretch and got in the outside wall.”

On the Lap 31 restart, the field was unable to complete another green flag lap before Sprint Showdown runner-up A.J. Allmendinger spun out of the back of the field and smacked the inside wall, ending his night prematurely as well.

Finally able to keep the green flag, Kasey Kahne went out in front with 35 laps complete, and went on to win the second segment over Harvick, Edwards and Greg Biffle.

Then the strategy play began.

McMurray was the first of four who did not pit between segments two and three, and he lined up for the restart on the front row with Kenseth. Kahne restarted eighth after taking four tires, with Greg Biffle on two tires the first car off pit road in sixth.

On the restart, Kahne blasted through the field and was fourth within a lap, then dispatching Keselowski and McMurray to reclaim the lead at Lap 47. It was a lead he would not relinquish for the rest of the segment, leading Harvick, McMurray, Keselowski and Kenseth with 60 laps complete.

Kahne led the entire field onto pit road, but it was McMurray who led the race off pit road as he and three others (Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch) took only two tires.

McMurray fought off Keselowski on the restart and reassumed the lead, but a fiery crash in Turn 3 after something appeared to break underneath Jeff Gordon’s Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet and he smacked the outside wall, collecting Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr. in the process. All three cars were done for the night.

“I’m not exactly sure what (happened),” Gordon said. “Hopefully we didn’t damage it too bad so we can find out what it was. I was going down the backstretch going into turn three and I felt something in the front end give. All of a sudden I had more wheel and I wasn’t even in the corner.”

McMurray grabbed the lead on the ensuing restart, but behind him, race dominator Kasey Kahne was in trouble. Kahne and Ryan Newman were battling for position when both drivers drifted up into the outside wall in Turn 4, ending Newman’s night. Harvick chased down McMurray to win the fourth segment but Kahne smacked the wall again coming to complete Lap 80, squelching his shot at the victory.

Havick, who finished third, second, second and first led the field onto pit road with the best average finish of the field at 2.0, but came out of the pits third and could not make up the difference.

Edwards, who finished fifth, was already second-guessing his move on the restart when he got out of his race car.

“Jamie just did a perfect job on the start,” Edwards said. “I had him cleared for a minute. If I would have pulled in front of him in Turn 1, if I would have gone high, I think we would have won that race, but I was just so reluctant to give up the bottom.”

“He ended up sweeping around the outside of me, dragging me down, and it was a drag race. My hat is off to him. He did a great job. He earned it. I drove as hard as I could while he was on the outside and he gave me just the right amount of room to not wreck me, but still beat me. If I had it to do over again, I’d do it differently but that’s racing. You’ve just got to make the best decision you can and move on. It’s a really tough one, though.”

McMurray was emotional in victory lane, and explained how tough and how special earning a win at the All-Star Race really is.

“It is so much different then winning the Daytona 500 or the Brickyard because there are no points and I think the mentality going into that last segment is all or nothing,” McMurray expressed. The Missouri native has scored two points paying victories at Charlotte, one in the fall of 2002 and again in 2010. “That was my thought process. I’m like I don’t really care if we wreck, I don’t care what happens, I’m racing for a million dollars. I get to start on the front row and I’m going to make the very most out of the restart and everything that goes with this.”

Earlier that day, McMurray’s young son Carter asked his father about his plans for the day.

“He asked me what I was going to do today, so I asked him what he was going to do today,” McMurray added. “And he said, ‘Oh, I’m going to play in my sandbox. What are you going to do, Dad?'”

“I said, ‘I’m going to race for a million bucks, Carter.’ It’s so cool that we were actually able to win.”

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is back in action next on Sunday, May 25th for the running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Kurt Busch will be attempting to make it to Charlotte in time to complete the Memorial Day Double after racing in the Indianapolis 500. Kevin Harvick is the defending winner of the 600, NASCAR’s longest race.

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