AVONDALE, AZ (April 18, 2009) – The last time that Jamie McMurray raced at Phoenix International Raceway, he walked away with a third-place finish for his efforts. Phoenix, the track which McMurray looks forward to racing at every year, wasn’t as kind to McMurray and his Crown Royal team as the weekend’s events began for the Subway Fresh Fit 500. After an early encounter with the wall during the first practice session, McMurray and his team found themselves repairing their primary car for a majority of the weekend’s practice sessions. Saturday’s race allowed McMurray to showcase what makes him and his team persevere in the face of adversity as the Crown Royal team rallied back to finish eleventh for the first Saturday night race of the season.
With the weekend’s race falling on Saturday night, teams in the Sprint Cup Series found themselves with a jam-packed schedule on Friday which included two practices and qualifying. The Crown Royal team was eagerly anticipating the race because the car they brought with them had been tested at Phoenix earlier in the season at a tire test. The test was also the first time that McMurray had been reunited with his former crew chief Donnie Wingo for the 2009 season.
The first practice session of the weekend began with an unfortunate event for McMurray and his team. Early on in the session, the No. 82 car dropped oil on the track, and McMurray found himself holding on as the Crown Royal Ford slid along the track wall coming off of Turn 3. The contact caused damage to the right side of the car and forced the team to make repairs to the panel. The repair work also limited the amount of practice time the team had prior to qualifying and to make matters even more challenging, McMurray found himself with an early qualifying spot of fifth. Due to the early draw combined with the limited amount of practice time, McMurray started Saturday’s race from the 28th starting position.
McMurray and the No. 26 team knew that their luck had to turn around after Friday’s challenging events and when the green flag waved at 5:46 p.m. PST to start the 312-lap event, McMurray drove with the determination needed to bring home a strong finish at a track that he greatly enjoys racing at.
The Crown Royal Ford steadily moved up the leader board during the opening run and by lap 30, McMurray had improved his position by 10 spots to 18th before the first caution of the day came on lap 55. Wingo radioed to his driver to see how the car had been handling and McMurray told him that the car was pretty good overall but just a bit loose into the turns as well as a little loose exiting the turns. Wingo called for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure change on lap 56 and McMurray restarted in 15th after a quick stop by his crew.
As the sun fell on Phoenix International Raceway, McMurray radioed in to Wingo that the changes had helped but that more of those same adjustments were needed in order to help in the turns. The Crown Royal pit crew continued to adjust the air pressure settings on the next few pit stops as McMurray found himself settling into the 15th position for the majority of the race. McMurray, who was mostly quiet over the team radio, focused on his lap times and the best lines to run in an effort to further improve his position, but passing at Phoenix is a difficult endeavor. Within the final 50 laps of the race however, McMurray drive his way up five positions on the leader board to finish the evening with an eleventh-place finish, just narrowly missing the top 10. The finish earned McMurray 130 points for the day and gained him three positions in the driver point standings, jumping from 27th to 24th.
“We had a pretty challenging weekend but I’m really glad with our finish tonight,” said McMurray after the race. “Friday was frustrating because we lose a lot of our practice time having to make repairs to the car, so I wasn’t really sure what we had to work with going into tonight’s race. We ended up having a good car, but track position is just so important and it’s just so hard to pass here. We were challenged all race to make our way up through the field especially with us starting the race from 28th. Our Crown Royal pit crew did a great job in the pits today and that allowed us to gain some positions, so I’m just really proud of all the work our team did this weekend.”
Pole-sitter Mark Martin won Saturday night’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway after he led a commanding total of 157 laps. Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch rounded out the Top-3 finishers Saturday, while McMurray’s Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Greg Biffle was the highest-finishing Ford in fifth. McMurray and his No. 26 Crown Royal Ford finished 11th.
Next weekend the Sprint Cup Series travels to Talladega Superspeedway for the Aaron’s 499. Pre-race television coverage begins on Sunday, April 26th at 1:00 p.m. E.S.T. on FOX. Radio coverage will be provided by the Motor Racing Network (MRN).
Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile speedway)
Sunday, April 26, 2009