Thursday, Sep 28

McMurray wins at Talladega

The Camping World 500 at Talladega Superspeedway is known as the wild-card race.

It did not live up to its billing on Sunday, but it produced a new points leader in Jimmie Johnson. It also produced a happy Jamie McMurray, who ended a 108-race winless streak by finishing first, and a frustrated Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is still looking for his first win of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

Johnson admitted he was looking forward to the Talladega race being over before it even started. But he was determined to run up front to avoid the infamous "Big One."

He and Matt Kenseth, who began the day as the points leader, did just that as they were out front for most of the 188-lap event. Johnson led 10 times for a race-high 47 laps, and Kenseth led four times for 32 laps.

But when it became show time with 25 laps to go, Kyle Busch was the leader with Carl Edwards and a huge pack of cars trying to get around him.
The racing was two and three wide before McMurray jumped into the lead with 14 laps to go, followed by Earnhardt and rookies Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

Johnson tried to make a move with 10 laps to go to get back to the front, but no one came with him as the race had suddenly turned into a single-file race, leaving Johnson hung out as he waited to find a high spot to slide into line.

Kenseth, too, made the wrong move in the final 10 laps and dropped all the way to 20th, allowing Johnson to move into first place in the Chase for the Championship. Johnson ended up 13th and now leads Kenseth by a slim four points with only four races left in the season.

As the race headed into its final five laps, Earnhardt told his crew he had a "plan" to win the race and was going to wait until the last lap to put it into action.
But it was Dillon who made the first move on the last lap, forcing Earnhardt to move down half a lane to block Dillon.

When Dillon maneuvered to slide back into line, he lost control of his Chevrolet as he was clipped by Stenhouse.

Dillon's car bounced hard off the wall and became airborne. Just as Dillon's car landed right-side up, it was slammed into by Casey Mears. Both drivers escaped the incident unhurt.

The caution flag was waved immediately, putting a huge smile on McMurray's face and leaving Earnhardt to wonder what might have been.

Stenhouse finished third, followed by Paul Menard, Kyle Busch, David Ragan, David Gilliland, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer.

While Johnson and Kenseth were running up front, Kevin Harvick, third in the standings heading into the weekend, faded to the back.

Harvick came on strong at the end and finished 12th. He is tied with Kyle Busch for third place in the points standings, 26 points behind Johnson.

Jeff Gordon, who finished 14th Sunday, rounds out the top five in the standings, 34 points back of Johnson.

McMurray said he wasn't sure how the last lap would have played out if the late caution not occurred.

"I could see the 88 (Earnhardt) trying to set me up and trying to figure out where he could get a run on me," McMurray said. "Honestly, I wanted to see it end under the green but at the same time I said if there was a caution I would be OK with that too.

"Our cars have been so much better this year and we haven't been able to get to victory lane. I knew that the Cessna Chevrolet was good in practice, but I just could not get in the right line until the end. I saw the 17 (Stenhouse) and 88 coming on the top. It just seemed the top was the better place. Fortunately, I was able to get myself in position. What a big win for (car owner) Chip Ganassi and this whole team."

Earnhardt, who finished second for the fourth time this season, admitted he may have second thoughts about this race.

"I will spend the next couple of months thinking about what I could have done differently," he said. "We always seem to have these last-lap wrecks so I guess I should have gone a lap sooner.

"It is frustrating, but I keep coming back to how well we are running. These last five races I have had some of the best cars I've ever driven. I know we are just right around the corner from winning one of these things."

Stenhouse had his own ideas of how he would approach the final stages.

"(I was) trying to hang back, time it right where Paul and I could either kind of get a run on the 14 (Dillon) and go to the inside and see if we could make something happen or get him (Dillon) to pull out and go low and us get back in line on the top and try to have a full head of steam for Dale and Jamie there coming down to (turns) three and four," he said. "I just didn't time it quite right and us and the 14 met right there in the middle and caused a crash. I am bummed that we caused that, but all in all, it was a good day for us (as he earned his best finish in Sprint Cup racing)."

Johnson, who is seeking his sixth championships, was satisfied for the most part.

"Thirteenth isn't the best finish, especially with as strong as car as we had," he said, "but we are trying to win a championship, and we beat the competition (Kenseth) so that is good.


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