Jamie McMurray takes checkered flag at Talladega — second non-Chase driver Sprint Cup victory in a row
By Rick Minter
In winning the Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, Jamie McMurray became the second-straight non-Chase driver to win a Sprint Cup race this season. It was the first time since 2006 that non-Chase drivers won back-to-back Chase races. In ’06, Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers won at Kansas and Talladega, respectively, then Stewart won another two straight, at Atlanta and Texas.
McMurray’s win, his first since 2010 at Charlotte and the seventh of his career, came a week after Brad Keselowski surged to victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
McMurray won at Talladega from an unlikely position — holding the lead halfway through the final lap. Just as it looked as if eventual second-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr., with plenty of drafting help in the form of Austin Dillon, was about to make a move on McMurray off Turn Two, third-running Dillon and fourth-running Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked.
That brought out the caution flag and sealed the win for McMurray as NASCAR set the finishing order by how the drivers were running when the yellow flag was displayed.
Behind the leaders, Jimmie Johnson, with a 13th-place finish, took the points lead from Matt Kenseth, who finished 20th after leading 32 laps earlier in the race.
Other than the last-lap crash, the race was far from typical for Talladega. There was no “Big One” crash, and instead of running in a big pack in the closing laps, the leaders wound up running single-file in the outside groove, and essentially finished where they were running when the race was flagged for the Stenhouse-Dillon crash.
Earnhardt, who finished second, said he didn’t make a move earlier because he feared no one would go with him and he’d drop to the back of the pack.
“I was in perfect position to be patient and wait as long as I wanted to,” Earnhardt said. “So that’s why we didn’t go any sooner than that. I just can’t anticipate a caution coming out every single time we run at Talladega race on the last lap, so I just assumed it would go to checkered, and was planning my move on the back straightaway.”
McMurray said he was doing all he could to keep Earnhardt at bay.
“When I got to the lead, I was trying to enter [the corners] a little bit lower so we weren’t using so much race track, so that if everyone behind me would follow, maybe the bottom line wouldn’t develop and move up as fast,” he said. “Every time I entered lower, I would get away from [Earnhardt], and I feel like he was getting more of a run on me off the corner.
“As those laps counted down, I was kind of trying to do something different each lap so that he couldn’t prepare for it.”
When the running order was sorted out, Stenhouse finished a Cup-career-best third, followed by Paul Menard. Chase contender Kyle Busch was fifth, with non-Chase drivers David Ragan, David Gilliland and Martin Truex Jr. taking positions six through eight.
All told, six of the top eight spots went to non-Chase drivers, a reversal of the usual scenario in the Chase.