HAMPTON, GA (March 8, 2009) – Atlanta Motor Speedway is known on the Cup circuit as being one of the fastest tracks the series visits. Handling is usually the primary focus for teams as they prepare for Sunday’s race, and this weekend’s Sprint Cup series race at Atlanta was no exception. Jamie McMurray, driver of the No. 26 IRWIN Industrial Tools Ford, came to Atlanta with a renewed energy following the team’s first top-ten finish of the season the weekend before at Las Vegas. McMurray and the IRWIN Ford started Sunday’s race from third following a stellar qualifying effort on Friday, but loose-handling conditions Sunday plagued the team, and McMurray drove with determination to finish in the Top 15.
Throughout the course of the weekend temperatures at Atlanta were unseasonably warm. Sunday afternoon was no exception and when it came time for the field to start their engines, the race began under sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70’s.
The first caution of the race came during lap one after the No. 43 spun out in turn one and just ten laps later, the second caution came out for a spin as well. The field knew that the track was slick and the No. 26 team knew that they had to have a car that could handle in the loose conditions in order to contend. While the first few opening runs looked promising for McMurray and the IRWIN Industrial Tools team, on lap 30, McMurray radioed in to his crew chief Donnie Wingo that the car had become way too loose in entry and off as he slowly dropped down to 12th on the leader board.
Wingo knew that the team would have to make adjustments on the next pit stop, but the team had to anxiously wait for a chance to get a break with a caution. Unfortunately the break they were looking for didn’t come, and the field began to cycle through a series of green flag pit stops around lap 58. The No. 26 machine had dropped back to 22nd on lap 54 but Wingo knew that their fuel window was only about ten more laps. McMurray finally got the go-ahead from Wingo to come down pit road on lap 65 to receive four tires, fuel, air pressure changes, and track bar adjustments.
By lap 96 McMurray called in over radio communications that the IRWIN Ford continued to be loose in to the turns and tight in the middle. During the caution on lap 103, McMurray begged his team to tighten him up on the next stop, and Wingo called for a series of adjustments including a rubber in the left rear as well as a wedge adjustment on top of the routine four tires and fuel. The changes didn’t appear to be helping McMurray as the green flag laps ticked by and on lap 130, he radioed in to Wingo that “the car feels even looser than it did at the start of the race.” With only ten cars left on the lead lap, Wingo decided to go in an opposite direction in order to tighten up the No. 26 machine.
During a pit stop on lap 190, the IRWIN Industrial Tools over-the-wall members pulled the rubbers out of the left rear, and after McMurray restarted, he radioed in to his team that the changes had helped his car a small amount and that more changes like that were needed. That was the feedback the team had been looking for, and over the course of the next few pit stops, the IRWIN team continued to tighten up the No. 26 Ford with track bar and air pressure adjustments.
McMurray drove his way up to the 15th position by lap 265 and spent the remainder of the race focused on hitting his marks, conserving fuel, and hoping that they could be in position to get a lap back to the race leaders. But unfortunately the caution the team needed to get the “lucky dog” came too late in the race and McMurray and his No. 26 IRWIN Industrial Tools Ford finished 15th, two laps down to the race leaders.
“We had such a loose car today,” said McMurray after the race. “Today really came down to who was able to get their car driving as best they could in loose conditions because the track was really slick all afternoon. We had a great qualifying run on Friday and we really spent the rest of our practice sessions during the weekend focusing on our race trim. Our IRWIN Industrial Tools Ford got loose early on today and my team really focused all their efforts on finding what worked to try and tighten up our car. This is always a very fast track and that makes for some action out on the track, but I’m just really glad that we ran another smart race and we’ll just look ahead to Bristol.”
Kurt Busch won Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway after a late-race caution set up a victory of just 0.332 seconds over Jeff Gordon. Busch dominated Sunday’s race as he led 234 of 330 total laps. Gordon finished second and continues his lead in the driver point standings. McMurray’s Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Carl Edwards rounded out the top-three finishers Sunday afternoon.
Next weekend the Sprint Cup Series takes the weekend off, but will return to action the following week at Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City 500. Pre-race television coverage begins on Sunday, March 22nd at 1:30 p.m. E.S.T. on FOX. Radio coverage will be provided by the Performance Racing Network (PRN).
Food City 500
Bristol Motor Speedway (0.533-mile speedway)
Sunday, March 22, 2009