FONTANA, CA (February 22, 2009) – Jamie McMurray, driver of the No. 26 Crown Royal Ford Fusion always looks forward to racing at Auto Club Speedway because it is statistically one of his best tracks. Unfortunately, the Crown Royal team was challenged with braking woes late in the race which found the team leaving California with a 16th-place finish Sunday evening.
McMurray and the No. 26 team had a stellar qualifying effort Friday afternoon after posting a fast lap time of 39.419 seconds at a speed of 182.65 mph. The quick lap allowed the Crown Royal Ford to start from the third position for Sunday’s race.
The green flag waved to start the Auto Club 500 at 3:21 p.m. PST under cloudy skies as a light mist began to fall on the 43-car field. The race was underway for five laps before race officials were forced to bring out the first caution of the day for rain on lap six. McMurray was in the second position as the field continued around the track under yellow. Crew chief Donnie Wingo radioed to his driver during the caution to ask how the car was handling in the opening laps, and McMurray replied that the car was “pretty good overall but just a little bit tight in the middle of the turns.” Wingo opted not to pit during the caution, and the field finally restarted under green on lap 23.
McMurray fell to fifth by lap 28 and told his team over radio communications that the car was “loose in the turns” and asked to make a wedge adjustment. The second caution of the race for rain came on lap 42 and allowed Wingo to bring the No. 26 to pit road for four tires, fuel, and a wedge adjustment to the left rear. The adjustment helped, but immediately following the restart, McMurray asked for another dose of the wedge change. The Crown Royal Ford continued to be loose as the laps went on, but McMurray was able to hold on to the eighth position for the next set of runs.
The first series of green flag pit stops began around lap 85 and Wingo called his driver to stall twelve on lap 87 for another round of wedge adjustments to the left rear as well as four fresh Goodyear tires and Sunoco fuel. The adjustments helped to tighten up the handling concerns, but McMurray was still encountering loose conditions. By lap 106, McMurray told his team that the car was getting freer as the run went on and was also starting to loose rear grip on the high lines.
The second series of green flag pit stops began around lap 120 and the Crown Royal Ford pitted on lap 127 this time making a series of air pressure adjustments on the rear tires as well as dropping the track bar two rounds. Light rain showers once again loomed overhead and brought out another caution during lap 142. One final caution for rain came on lap 171, but the race restarted just seven laps later with McMurray and his No. 26 Ford still locked into the top 10.
As the team rallied to challenge for track position, concern came across the radio when McMurray told his team that there seemed to be an issue with his brakes. Not knowing the extent of the problem, Wingo reassured his driver that the team would check the car on the next available caution. Fortunately a caution came on lap 209 which allowed McMurray to come down pit road on lap 210. The long caution allowed the team to try and asses the problem, but without wanting to lose any more track position, McMurray had to rejoin the field for the restart in 15th.
McMurray spent the remainder of the race fighting to hold on to track position even after the challenges of the brakes, and when the Crown Royal Ford crossed the stripe after 250 laps, McMurray found himself with a 16th-place finish for his efforts.
“We had such a great car today,” commented McMurray following the race. “Unfortunately we just got a bit loose as the race went on, but overall this was a great car. Our Crown Royal pit crew did a great job making adjustments all race long as the track conditions kept changing. Although it’s not the finish I would have hoped for, we really did fight hard for this finish after the challenges we were presented with today.”
Matt Kenseth won the Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway making this his second consecutive win of the 2009 Sprint Cup Series season. Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-three finishers Sunday evening, and fellow Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Greg Biffle, finished fourth.
Next week the Sprint Cup Series travels to Las Vegas, NV for the Shelby 427. Pre-race television coverage begins on Sunday, March 1st at 3:30 p.m. E.S.T. on FOX. Radio coverage will be provided by the Performance Racing Network (PRN).
Las Vegas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile speedway)
Las Vegas, NV.
Sunday, March 1, 2009