FT. WORTH, TX (April 5, 2009) – Fresh off a Top-10 finish at Martinsville the weekend before, driver Jamie McMurray was eager to head to Texas Motor Speedway. Statistically, Texas was McMurray’s best-finishing track on the Sprint Cup series circuit and the No. 26 team even had a new paint scheme on behalf of Valvoline and Sears Auto Center. Despite a disappointing qualifying effort, McMurray and team were poised to finish well in Sunday’s Samsung 500. Unfortunately, a parts failure in the transmission forced McMurray to the garage early in the race as he lost 79 laps to the race leaders before he was able to return to the racing action. The No. 26 Valvoline/Sears Auto Center Ford finished 38th despite McMurray having had driven his way up to 14th before the bad luck ensued.
The 43-car field came to the green flag at 1:18 p.m. CST and within the opening laps McMurray piloted his Ford up to 25th. McMurray and his team had been challenged by a tight-handling race car for much of the weekend’s practice sessions, but on lap twelve, McMurray radioed in to crew chief Donnie Wingo that the car “was handling awesome and that the balance was great on the start.” McMurray continued to charge ahead for additional spots on the leader board and by lap 18, he was solidly in 23rd.
Handling conditions began to change however because during lap 25, McMurray radioed in to his team that the car was tight in the middle now and “feels like the front tires have lost grip.” Wingo and the Valvoline/Sears Auto Center team planned for their first pit stop of the day which came under green as the field began to cycle through pit road around lap 50. Wingo called his driver to stall 25 on lap 54 for a routine four tire stop along with a series of air pressure adjustments.
McMurray drove up to 20th by lap 95 as Wingo told his driver that he was running lap times as good as the race leaders. The first caution of the day came on lap 98 for debris and McMurray came to pit road for four tires and fuel without any additional changes to his Ford Fusion. The No. 26 Valvoline/Sears Auto Center pit crew provided a fast pit stop which allowed McMurray to gain two positions off of pit road as he restarted 18th on lap 103.
The No. 26 Ford continued to patiently gain positions on the leader board and by lap 137, McMurray was scored in 14th. Wingo continued to monitor the car’s handling and on lap 153, McMurray said the car was loose into the corners and tight in the middle.
The afternoon’s second series of green-flag pit stops began to cycle through around lap 154 and McMurray pitted on lap 156 for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure change. Upon exiting from pit road and returning to the field, McMurray called in over radio communications on lap 157 that something was drastically wrong with the Valvoline/Sears Auto Center Ford. McMurray had to drive the No. 26 machine to the garage because he was unable to get the car in gear.
Wingo and his team immediately sprung into action to determine the cause, and it was determined that there was a part that failed in the transmission. The team had to change out the transmission of the No. 26 Ford and due to the lengthy process, lost 79 laps to the race leaders. The team was able to make the change, and McMurray returned to the race during lap 236 with just 98 laps left in the 41st position.
By lap 251, McMurray told his team that the car was handling very well and that the shifting was much better than it had been earlier in the race. McMurray made two more pit stops during the race under caution and was able to gain three positions before the checkered flag waved after lap 334.
“Today ended up being pretty disappointing for us in the end,” said McMurray following the race. “We started the race and made up a lot of track position and it looked like we had a pretty solid car today. There wasn’t any indication prior to the problem with our transmission. We had made our green-flag pit stop and I got about halfway down the backstretch when the car popped out of gear. I immediately tried to get it back in gear and I couldn’t get it into anything, so I just came into the garage do that the guys could take a better look. It’s disappointing because we usually run well at Texas, but I’m really proud of my guys today for all the work they did in order to get us back out there to finish the race.”
Jeff Gordon won Sunday’s Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway and snapped a 47-race winless streak in the process. Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle rounded out the other Top-three finishers at the “Great American Speedway.” McMurray and the No. 26 Valvoline/Sears Auto Center Ford finished 38th.
Next weekend the Sprint Cup Series has the weekend off, but will return to action on April 18th at Phoenix International Raceway for the Subway Fresh Fit 500. Pre-race television coverage begins on Saturday, April 18th at 8:00 p.m. E.S.T. on FOX. Radio coverage will be provided by the Motor Racing Network (MRN).
Subway Fresh Fit 500
Phoenix International Raceway (1.0-mile speedway)
Saturday, April 18, 2009