LONG POND, Pa. (August 3, 2008) – This afternoon at Pocono Raceway, Jamie McMurray and the No. 26 Crown Royal team took a gamble near the end of the race that paid off with their second top-10 finish in two weeks. After qualifying 41st, and running most of the race near mid pack, crew chief Larry Carter made the call to pit when no one else came down pit road. The gamble paid off and the team was rewarded with their fifth top-10 finish of season.
During opening practice on Friday afternoon, the No. 26 Crown Royal team was pleased with the car in race trim, but when they switched it over to qualifying trim the car did not seem to perform as well. The result in qualifying was a disappointing 41st starting position for Sunday afternoon. Rain showers at the track on Saturday prevented any additional practice time, leaving the No. 26 team a bit unsure heading into Sunday’s race.
Pole winner Jimmie Johnson led the field of 43 cars to the green flag at 2:21pm, before a crowd of over 100,000 fans at Pocono Raceway. McMurray, who started from the 41st position, quickly gained a handful of laps in the first five laps. On lap seven, the first caution of the day was displayed when the No. 2 car spun coming off turn three. During the caution period Carter instructed McMurray to stay out, and they would pit during the competition caution NASCAR determined prior to the start of the race. When the race resumed, McMurray radioed to Carter, noting the car was very tight center off.
On lap 20, NASCAR displayed the yellow flag, giving all teams a chance to come down pit road for four tires and fuel. During the pit stop, the No. 26 team made a wholesale of changes to the No. 26 Crown Royal Ford Fusion. The over-the-wall crew pulled two shims from the front shocks and put one spring rubber in the right rear. McMurray returned to the track scored in the 39th position.
Throughout most of the afternoon, the No. 26 team would move up the board as high as 20th, but never got the break they needed to make a charge to the front. On lap 131, rain showers started off of turn two, bringing out the caution flag, and eventually, the red flag was displayed as rain showers moved over the entire speedway. Drivers and teams received a 41-minute break as track officials dried the 2.5-mile race track.
Following red flag, McMurray returned to the speedway shown in the 34th position. However, when the caution flag came out again on lap 137 for a wreck off turn two, crew chief Carter had a plan. On lap 139, Carter summoned a hesitant McMurray down pit road for what would be a two tire and fuel stop. During the stop, Carter called for four tires. The Crown Royal pit crew reacted to the call and moved to the left side to change two additional tires. McMurray exited pit road in the 35th position, and at the time, unsure with the call to pit.
On lap 140, rain returned to the raceway, but moved out moments later, letting way to a bright, sunny skies.
As the racing continued on, Carter knew the No. 26 team would only have to pit one additional time to make it to the scheduled distance of 200 laps, and that most other teams on pit road would have to pit twice. On lap 155, the leaders began coming down pit road for scheduled pit stops. McMurray remained on the track and eventually was scored as the leader; earning the team five additional points.
On lap 170, Carter called McMurray back down pit road for four tires and fuel. After exiting in the 21st position, it was left into the hands of McMurray to make it to the end. And as the laps counted down, drivers ahead of McMurray dove down pit road for a splash of fuel to make to the end, but not the No. 26 team. With just 10 laps remaining in the event, McMurray was scored 14th. During the final lap of the race, McMurray took the white flag from the 13th position, and was able to pick up four more positions on the last lap to finish ninth.
“We certainly didn’t have the best car out there today, but we made the most of our finish,” said McMurray following the race. “Larry and Derek (Stamets) made a great call to pit when no one else came down pit road. After the call, I was pretty upset because it looked like it was going to rain, and I felt we gave up a lot of track position, but when the skies cleared and we only had to pit one more time, I knew that Larry had made the right call. We took a gamble this afternoon and it paid off in a top-10 finish for this Crown Royal team.”
This afternoon’s top-10 finish moved McMurray up one spot to 19th in the point standings. Next weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits the 2.45-mile road course – Watkins Glen International. The action begins at 2:00pm on both ESPN and MRN.
Centurion Boats at The Glen
Watkins Glen International (2.45-mile road course)
Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Sunday, August 10, 2008