DAYTONA BEACH, FL (February 12, 2009) – After being in the wrong place at the wrong time in Wednesday afternoon’s final practice session before the Gatorade Duel, Jamie McMurray and his No. 26 Crown Royal team were forced to go to a back-up car for Thursday’s race. The back-up car the team chose however was the same car McMurray finished second with in Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout and the team looked to this car to perform well in the Duel. McMurray finished 10th in Thursday afternoon’s first race and felt confident that the car would be a solid contender for Sunday’s Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
The Gatorade Duel is the Sprint Cup Series preliminary event to the Daytona 500 held annually in February at Daytona International Speedway. The event consists of two 150-mile races, and serves as a qualifying race for the Daytona 500. The finishing order in the two 150-mile races, determines the starting lineup for the Daytona 500 held on Sunday, February 15th.
Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is unique in NASCAR. Only the two front row starters are determined by the ordinary qualifying process of timed laps. After the top two positions are locked in, the rest of the starting grid is set by the finishing order of these two Duel races. Drivers participate in one of the two races. Half the field entered for the Daytona 500 races in the first race, and the other half the second. The finishing order of the first race fills the odd positions of the starting grid (inside of each row), and the finishing order for the second race fills the even positions of the starting grid (outside of each row.)
McMurray was selected to race in the first of the 60-lap races of the afternoon. When the green flag waved at 2:20 p.m. EST, the No. 26 Crown Royal Ford Fusion dropped to the rear of the field after the team was forced to go to a back-up car following an on-track incident during Wednesday’s final practice session. The car the team selected to run was the same car from Saturday evening’s Budweiser Shootout where McMurray finished second due to a last-lap caution. The Crown Royal team did not have an opportunity to practice with the car before Thursday’s race, but felt confident that they had a fast car.
Within the opening laps of the race, the No. 26 machine drove up to 20th before the first caution of the day came during lap three. McMurray took the opportunity to radio in to his crew chief Donnie Wingo that the car was “pretty tight in the center and off of the turns.” Wingo made a note of the tight conditions and opted to not pit during the first caution. The field restarted on lap seven with the Crown Royal Ford in 19th and by lap thirteen, McMurray had piloted his way into the sixth position on the leaderboard.
The tight-handling conditions continued to challenge McMurray as he fought for track position. The second caution of the race came during lap 25 and Wingo called his driver to pit road for four fresh tires and fuel. The team also opted to make a minor air pressure adjustment to the right rear tire in an effort to help with some of the tightness in the corners.
McMurray and the No. 26 Crown Royal Ford restarted in eighth on lap 31 and by lap 38 drove his way into the top five as he passed the No. 48 for the fifth position. During lap 49, with eleven laps remaining, the No. 1 car spun and brought out the third caution. Wingo opted to leave his driver out on the track in an effort to avoid being marred in the middle of the pack and hopefully avoid any possible altercations in the final laps. The plan allowed McMurray to lead for a total of six laps after the field returned to green flag racing but then a multi-car wreck on lap 53 set up another restart on lap 56. McMurray and the Crown Royal Ford found themselves without any drafting help on the restart and got shuffled back to tenth.
“That’s a pretty good car we have,” commented McMurray after the race. “On that last restart, with Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon) behind me, I knew that Jeff would lag a little bit and Jimmie would get on his bumper, and he got on my outside. I thought someone would pull down to the bottom line with me, but it turned out that no one wants to help with old tires because you think the other car isn’t going to make any progress on those tires. We wanted to win this afternoon, but we really just wanted to finish and not tear our car up today. This is the car that ran well in the Shootout and when the race started today, it drove a lot better than the other one, so it should be a good Daytona 500 car for our Crown Royal team.”
Jeff Gordon won Thursday’s first race of the Gatorade Duel at Daytona and Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-three finishers. Kyle Busch won the afternoon’s second Gatorade Duel of the day and held off Mark Martin and Brian Vickers who finished second and third respectively.
This Sunday the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series begins the 2009 regular season at Daytona International Speedway for the 51st running of the Daytona 500. Pre-race television coverage begins on Sunday, February 15th at 2:00 p.m. E.S.T. on FOX. Radio coverage will be provided by the Motor Racing Network (MRN).
Daytona International Speedway (2.5-mile speedway)
Daytona Beach, Fl.
Thursday, Feb. 15, 2009