Comeback Kid McMurray Bounces Back with Top-Five at California CONCORD, N.C., (February 28, 2005) -- Two nights before the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway, driver Jamie McMurray and Crew Chief Donnie Wingo were busy strategizing setup...
Comeback Kid McMurray Bounces Back with Top-Five at California
CONCORD, N.C., (February 28, 2005) -- Two nights before the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway, driver Jamie McMurray and Crew Chief Donnie Wingo were busy strategizing setup for the No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge amidst a stack of notes in a hotel room. A victim of untimely circumstance for the third-straight year at Daytona, McMurray and crew were ready to bury recent disappointments and hoping to mirror last year's strong top-five comeback following the second race of the season.
"We tested here [California] for two days a month ago and had three hours of practice on Friday," said McMurray. "But we just never really hit on anything. Our car hadn't been that great. So we went back to the hotel room Friday night and Donnie had like 300 pieces of paper spread out all over his hotel room and was walking around looking at them, and we just kind of came up with a setup that we thought would work. We kind of laughed about it because we spent 40 sets of tires trying to figure it out, so we didn't really know what made us think in one evening, we were going to figure it all out."
But they did. With a gamble in the pits and a speedy stop for two fresh tires with 33 laps to go, McMurray was propelled into third and would remain solidly inside the top-five to the wave of the checkered flag at the two-mile speedway.
Rolling off the grid in 15th place inside teammate Casey Mears and eight rows back from the youngest pole-sitter in NASCAR history, Kyle Busch, McMurray immediately went to work carving his way just outside the top-10 before the first round of pit stops on lap 25. Complaining of a lack of grip, the Texaco/Havoline crew gave McMurray and the No. 42 four tires and fuel, a left rear wedge adjustment and air pressure adjustments all-around.
Restarting in 10th, McMurray began struggling with a tight car in traffic and brought his Charger pit-side for additional wedge and air pressure adjustments, four tires and fuel after a second yellow for debris on the backstretch. Picking up two spots in the pits, McMurray passed the No.12 on the inside on lap 68 for another position and set his sites on the No. 97 using grip at the bottom of the track to his advantage.
"The last two years, this racetrack has been really wide," McMurray said. "Guys could run on the bottom or right up against the wall. But during Saturday's Busch race, you had to stay right on the white line. If you moved up any at all, there was no grip. And that makes for a fairly boring race, because it was hard to pass. For most of today's race, the track felt more like Darlington or Rockingham on your tires. You could use the bottom of the race track to turn your car since there was a lot of grip, but at the same time, you had to be careful, because you'd get loose down there. The track was just extremely slick."
After passing the No. 97 up high on lap 83, McMurray settled into a groove in the sixth position but noticed an intense vibration three laps before the next caution on lap 108. Following the third of five event cautions, McMurray circled the track conserving fuel and brought the No. 42 Texaco/Havoline into the pits for minor air pressure and wedge adjustments and four fresh tires. McMurray exited pit road in 10th place packed full of fuel and was alerted to the cause of the vibration -- equalization of the left front tire.
Trading track position with the No. 2 and gaining two more positions after additional stops on laps 144 and 161, McMurray attempted to hold the preferred low line jockeying for position inside the top-10. Entering his pit stall on lap 204 in eighth for four tires, fuel and another air pressure adjustment, the No.42 crew put McMurray just outside the top-five.
"We just really messed with air pressure all day," McMurray said. "All of the adjustments we made, we kind of had to go back on. We just kept working on air pressure, and when you get out in clean air, it's just amazing how much faster you can go."
Running in sixth behind a dominant No. 16 car, McMurray and team doubled down in the pits and won big with a two-tire stop and additional track position off pit road. As the final green flag fell over the field, McMurray quickly maneuvered into the third position with the fastest car on track and capped off a strong performance with fourth-place laurels at the checkered flag.
"I really didn't think the guys without tires were going to be any good," McMurray said. "I felt like we'd catch them and then the guys with four tires at the end would come on. I didn't think anyone would stay out. Honestly, the No. 16 and 97 were two of the better cars all day. They could take that chance. Track position was big, and when we left the pits first and there were only three or four cars ahead of us, I didn't think it was going to be that hard. I thought, 'this will be no big deal. We'll get right out and go.' But these guys were good on no tires. It worked out for us. Clean air was more important today than ever.
"As soon as they dropped the green flag the car was good. We took a little gamble at the end. Chip [Ganassi] is always on us about trying to do what we need to win races. The guys on two tires earlier had some success. Track position was more important today than ever. The new spoiler rule - I'm not a very big fan of it. It's just really hard to pass guys, and some of the guys you just run right up on their bumper and you can get them loose. I did it to Kasey Kahne, and I didn't mean to. It's going to take a while to get used to this, but track position is big."
"[Greg] Biffle was awfully fast, but when he'd get stuck back in traffic, he was just like everyone else," McMurray said. "He could pass two or three cars and it was just kind of stale. I raced with him most of the day when he got back in traffic, and really when I saw him not getting any tires up front, I thought there wouldn't be any problem catching him. There's something about 20 to go when you're leading the race - it's hard to catch a guy like that."
"How 'bout that 42 car?" team owner Chip Ganassi said. "We're happy with the car. It was a great run, and I think we're making progress with the Charger. We took a little gamble at the end, but you've got to take a few chances every now and then. All-in-all, it was a pretty good race."
Coming off a strong California finish, McMurray and team are hoping lady luck is on their side when they roll into Vegas.
"Last year I think we ran third at Rockingham, and I think it just kind of puts you back in the middle of the points again," McMurray said. "If you can get a top-five when it's early on like that, it seems to really boost you. So, we'll go to Las Vegas and take the same car and should have some success."
McMurray and the Texaco/Havoline team picked up 16 spots in the 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Series Chase for the Cup and now sit in 17th position, 113 points back from 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Champion Kurt Busch.
While the NEXTEL Cup Series enjoys a short respite from competition, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates will venture south of the border for the Telcel Motorola 200 presented by Banamex in Mexico City on Sunday, March 6. The 80-lap event heralds not only the historic return of road course racing for the NASCAR Busch Series but a notable event for team and sponsor as well: the inaugural Busch Series entry for the No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge. The Telcel-Motorola 200 presented by Banamex will be broadcast beginning at 2:30 p.m. EST on MRN affiliates nationwide and on FOX television at 3 p.m. EST from the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course.