[ via NASCAR Wire Service - by Reid Spencer ]
credit NASCAR Wire Service / Getty
Streaking away from an intense battle with polesitter Carl Edwards to open the final 10-lap segment Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jamie McMurray won the Sprint All-Star Race—and the million-dollar-plus prize that goes with the victory—for the first time in his career.
McMurray held off fast-closing Kevin Harvick, who crossed the finish line .696 seconds behind the race winner.
Matt Kenseth ran third, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Edwards and four-time Sprint All-Star Race winner Jimmie Johnson.
Earlier in the day, McMurray’s son carter had asked the driver what his plans for the day were.
“He asked me what I was going to do today, so I asked him what he was going to do today,” said McMurray, who has tallied two of his seven Sprint Cup victories in points races at Charlotte. “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 advantage McMurray opened after his breathtaking three-lap battle against Edwards gave him enough margin to hold off Harvick, who was closing fast in the final laps.
“It was three or four of the hardest laps I’ve ever driven in my racing career,” McMurray said.
It was first-year crew chief Keith Rodden’s strategy, however, that put McMurray in position to win. After a pit stop on Lap 26, McMurray didn’t take four tires again until the break between the final two segments, and on that final stop, superb work by his crew got him off pit road second and in a position to challenge Edwards for the lead.
“Keith Rodden made some great calls tonight,” said team owner Chip Ganassi, a Sprint All-Star Race winner for the first time. “The call was really made in segment 2 (the Lap 26 stop for tires) for him to be able to win the race.”
That call enabled McMurray to get by with two tires or to stay out between segments until the final stop.
“Keith did an unbelievable job,” McMurray said. “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.”
But before McMurray took the checkered flag, fans at the 1.5-mile track saw an action-packed race with a multitude of twists and turns.
Halfway through the first 20-lap segment, Kyle Busch passed pole winner Carl Edwards for the lead and held it until the first scheduled caution, but that was the end of the highlights for the driver of the No. 18 Toyota.
Six laps into the second segment, Busch tapped the rear bumper of Clint Bowyer’s Camry after Bowyer blocked Busch’s moved to the inside. Busch took evasive action, diving toward the apron, when Bowyer’s car got out of shape, but Bowyer’s Toyota clipped Busch’s and the No. 18 spun.
Joey Logano couldn’t avoid Busch and plowed into the spinning car, knocking both machines out of the race.
“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.”
After the subsequent restart on Lap 31, AJ Allmendinger’s Chevrolet nosed into the inside wall on the backstretch after contact with Brian Vickers’ Toyota.
Kasey Kahne grabbed the lead for the first time on Lap 35 and pulled away to win the second segment. With four cars staying out between segments and two more changing just two tires, Kahne started eighth for segment No. 3, but on Lap 47 he passed Jamie McMurray (who had not changed tires) for the top spot.
By the time the third segment ended, Kahne was a comfortable 1.411 seconds ahead, with Harvick giving chase.
On the opening lap of the fourth segment, a mechanical failure in Jeff Gordon’s car sent the No. 24 Chevy into the outside wall in Turn 3, collecting the Chevrolet of Martin Truex Jr. and the Ford of Greg Biffle.
Kahne had two brushes with the wall in segment No. 4, ending his strong run with the sort of disappointment that has plagued him in points races all season long.
With the best average finish in the first four segments, Harvick entered pit road first for a mandatory four-time stop before the final 10-lap dash. McMurray, who made a huge track position gain by staying out between the third and fourth segments, was second onto pit road, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Edwards.
But Edwards used the No. 1 pit stall to advantage, winning the race off pit road over McMurray and Harvick. Matt Kenseth started the final segment in the fourth spot, with Johnson and Earnhardt behind him in fifth and sixth.
Edwards, however, couldn’t keep McMurray behind him, and after watching replays of the battle, the driver of the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford was already second-guessing himself.
“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.
“Jamie just did a perfect job. 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.”
Though Edwards and McMurray inched ahead of each other at various junctures after then final restart, McMurray led at the finish line for each of the final 10 laps. Once he cleared Edwards three laps into the run, McMurray pulled away.
Note: The 31 laps McMurray led Saturday night were the first he had ever led in the All-Star Race.