Chip Ganassi racer feels the No. 1 team is in a position to win "every week".
Before the season started, Chip Ganassi predicted that both of his Sprint Cup teams would qualify for the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
While neither Jamie McMurray nor Kyle Larson have won a race yet this year, the Nos. 1 and 42 Chevys keep edging closer to the front.
Larson missed the Martinsville race but remains 20th in the Sprint Cup point standings. But it's his veteran teammate McMurray that keeps finding a way to put himself in contention.
A solid recovery
On Sunday, McMurray led four laps at Richmond International Raceway before finishing fourth – the position he has finished on the .75-mile track in three of the previous four races.
McMurray’s second top-five of the season and elevated the No. 1 CGR Chevy team to ninth in the point standings.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” McMurray said. “We had a little bit of a hiccup in the pits at the beginning, and those guys did a good job of brushing that off and giving me good pit stops toward the end.
“And so, I’m really proud of our crew. We’ve run so good this year and it feels really nice.”
McMurray has been complimentary of his pit crew which consistently picks up spots on pit road. At Richmond, during the competition caution on Lap 50, McMurray had a loose lugnut on the left rear wheel. After two pit stops, he dropped from eighth-place to outside of the top 30. By the second caution on Lap 128, he had worked his way back to 15th.
McMurray’s car was better on long runs at Richmond once his tires wore in. Unfortunately for the CGR driver, race winner Kurt Busch’s car was stronger on restarts which enabled him to pull away from the field. Once McMurray’s car came in, he was competitive with the leaders – which was beneficial for the end game – had the race not been interrupted by cautions.
“Kurt had what you needed to win today,” McMurray said. “I could run him down by the end of the green‑flag runs, but he just ‑‑ he had such a quick car on restarts, and I got three shots at him on the outside.
“They kept throwing the caution and I tried something a little different each time to see if I could get him to spin his tires or make a mistake, and he just didn't make any mistakes. He did an awesome job today. I tried pinching him off into Turn 1 to see if I could get him loose. I tried everything.
“He just had a really good car, especially on the short run. Looking back now even if I could have got in front of Kurt I think his car was so much better than mine on the short run that I don't know if I could have held him up.”
Go with the flow
Still, McMurray, 38, might be the most resilient racer on the Sprint Cup tour. After enjoying what he believed was his “best year in Cup racing” in 2014, McMurray experienced his third crew chief change in as many years.
Matt McCall replaced Keith Rodden, who returned to the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team – this time as its crew chief. McCall was a team engineer with Richard Childress Racing prior to joining Ganassi at the end of last year.
Honestly, our cars are probably better, are better this year than what they were last year, and he's done a really nice job of calling the races and giving me a really fun car to drive that's fast.
Admittedly, McMurray was “a little bit nervous about what was going to happen.”
“But Matt has done an exceptional job,” McMurray said. “Honestly our cars are probably better, are better this year than what they were last year, and he's done a really nice job of calling the races and giving me a really fun car to drive that's fast.”
Holding his own
With the resources provided him at CGR, McMurray is confident in his ability to win at any given venue. This season, his average qualifying is 11.7 – 10th best on the Cup tour. McMurray has four top 10s in nine starts and an average finish of 15th. His only DNF this season came when Denny Hamlin lost control of his car at Atlanta and took out McMurray with less than 50 laps remaining in the race.
McMurray qualified third at Atlanta and was running in the top 10 when he was wrecked. Although McMurray posted an average finish of 8.5 in his other two 1.5-mile track starts, he believes Ganassi’s intermediate program still needs work. But the Sprint Cup driver feels that, “Honestly, I look at every week like we'll have a chance to win.”
Certainly, that’s the case this weekend when the tour travels to Talladega Superspeedway. McMurray scored two of his seven Cup wins – most recently in the fall 2013 race - at the 2.66-mile track.
The 4 and the 41 are extremely quick, but I think we proved (Sunday) that we have a team and a car capable of, put in the right position, to compete with those guys.
“The 4 (Kevin Harvick) and the 41(Busch) are extremely quick, but I think we proved (Sunday) that we have a team and a car capable of, put in the right position, to compete with those guys,” McMurray said. “I'm really happy with my team. The 42 ran well last week at Bristol. Our whole group is really strong right now.
“We just have to ‑‑ and we're doing it this year, we're getting the results of kind of where we've ran. That was one of my goals in the offseason was to finish better than I ran in the race. That's hard to do. When I look at Kevin and Jimmie Johnson and a lot of those guys, they tend to do that. They tend to finish just a little bit better than where they ran in the race. I didn't do that last year, so we've done a really good job of being able to do that this year.”