RICHMOND, VA (May 2, 2009) – After a disappointing race the week before, Jamie McMurray came to Richmond International Raceway eager for Saturday night’s race. Granted his sponsor Crown Royal had the entitlement rights to the Sprint Cup Series race, so McMurray and the No. 26 team knew that they also had additional support and excitement surrounding their efforts this weekend in particular. For a track that McMurray has such close ties to, Saturday night’s race sure provided enough challenges that one might have questioned how exactly McMurray and his team were able to secure his best finish of the 2009 season so far. After all the highs and lows that Saturday night’s race provided, McMurray and his Crown Royal Ford drove off with a seventh-place finish Saturday night at Richmond.
Russ Friedman was selected by Crown Royal to serve as the race entitlement winner for Saturday evening’s race at Richmond. Friedman served as the grand marshal and was also on hand in the pit stall to lend support for his driver of the No. 26 Ford. Rain in the Richmond area threatened to postpone the race, but officials quickly dried the track surface before the race began. The 43-car field came to a green and yellow-flagged start as officials continued to ensure that the track’s surface was safe before they let the field throttle up to full speed. Following six laps under yellow to begin the race, the green flag finally waved on lap seven, and the evening’s racing festivities at Richmond were underway.
The first caution came early, but it allowed for McMurray to tell crew chief Donnie Wingo that the car was a little loose off the turns. By lap 38, the Crown Royal Ford had climbed up to 22nd on the leader board as McMurray once again radioed in that his car was tight in the middle and still a little loose off. Green flag pit stops began to cycle through beginning on lap 89 and Wingo called his driver to pit road on lap 98 for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. Due to the short track configuration of Richmond, cars further back in the field quickly become lapped by the race leaders and McMurray found himself a lap down only a quarter of the way into the race, but Wingo and the team’s spotter kept encouraging their driver to aim for the “lucky dog” position.
On lap 135, McMurray went for the pass which placed him in position for the free pass to get back onto the lead lap, and on lap 151, a caution came which is exactly what the Crown Royal team had hoped for. McMurray still solidly held on to the 23rd position even after the restart, but Wingo and the team knew they would have to use a bit of strategy to make up even more track position. Unfortunately, the Crown Royal Ford got collected in a wreck on lap 165 after the No. 99 spun out on the frontstretch. At first the team feared the worst, but upon further evaluation under caution, the damage to the right side of the car was mainly cosmetic and to the one fender.
Wingo called for a stop on lap 164 for four tires, fuel, and repair work to the No. 26 machine, but as McMurray was leaving pit road, NASCAR called in a speeding penalty which the entire team tried to protest, but to no avail. The combination of damage and penalty found McMurray restarting in 36th on lap 175, and thankfully the team was about to discover, that they’re evening was about to change for the better.
By lap 192, McMurray who had been relatively quiet over the team’s radio communications told his team that the car was really fast. The Crown Royal pit crew also had stepped up their game and cranked out some fast stops in an effort to gain a few positions on pit road, but McMurray was still not on the lead lap. On lap 286, the yellow flag waved, and McMurray was the recipient of his second “lucky dog” award of the evening. The free pass changed the team’s momentum instantly.
During a caution on lap 308, a majority of the field opted to pit, but Wingo told his driver to stay out in an effort to gain track position. Only a few other cars stayed out, and when the field restarted under green, McMurray was scored in third. The Crown Royal Ford maintained its position in third until the final 30 laps found McMurray get passed, but a clean finish earned him his career-best finish at Richmond as well as his best finish so far of the regular season in 2009.
“We really had a great night tonight,” said McMurray following the race. “Our Crown Royal team made really good adjustments to our car all night long and we were able to get back on the lead lap a few times tonight. We got caught up in the wreck on the frontstretch and just barely got beat by the first car, and then I got caught speeding on pit road, so I had to go to the back. It was a really long day, but our team did a great job and we had some really good pit stops when we were a lap down that put us in a position to be able to get the ‘lucky dog’ twice tonight. I joked around this weekend and said, ‘I don’t want to have bad luck. I want to have some great luck,’ and tonight we got to have some great luck.”
Kyle Busch won Saturday’s Russ Friedman 400 at Richmond International Raceway and swept both NASCAR races at the track this weekend. Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton rounded out the top three finishers in Saturday night’s action under the lights. McMurray earned the glory of being the highest finishing Ford for the race and in the process earned his career best Sprint Cup series finish at Richmond and gained four positions in the driver point standings.
Next weekend the Sprint Cup Series travels to Darlington Raceway for the Southern 500. Pre-race television coverage begins on Saturday, May 9th at 7:00 p.m. E.S.T. on FOX. Radio coverage will be provided by the Motor Racing Network (MRN).
Darlington Raceway (1.366-mile speedway)
Saturday, May 9, 2009