CONCORD, NC (May 16, 2009) – Jamie McMurray and his Crown Royal team had an eventful All-Star weekend filled with a series of highs and lows. McMurray knew that the only way to be able to get into the All-Star event, was to race his way in Saturday night. The Sprint Showdown race allows the first and second-place cars to race their way in to the All-Star race field, and the No. 26 team set their sights on that goal. The determination worked as McMurray found himself with a second-place finish in the Showdown and advanced to the All-Star race where he drove his way to finish ninth in his No. 26 Crown Royal Ford.
The weekend began on Friday with an hour and twenty minute practice session for the Sprint Showdown field. Forecasters called for a threat of rain showers in the area but McMurray and his team were able to get their allotted practice time in. Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to rain on the Showdown’s qualifying efforts which forced NASCAR officials to cancel qualifying for the event. In an altered way of setting the field, the rulebook stated that the starting lineup for the Showdown would be set by the order in which drivers were to have qualified. This meant that McMurray and the No. 26 Crown Royal Ford were forced to start 30th out of 35 entries.
Having to start from the rear of the field was not ideal, but McMurray and his team knew they needed to give it their all in order to have a chance of staying to race in the main event. Within the opening lap of the race, McMurray had throttled his way up to 19th but then the first caution flag appeared on lap two. During the caution, McMurray radioed in to his team that he had oil all over the windshield which made it difficult to see through. Crew chief Donnie Wingo told McMurray that in order to stand a chance of advancing, they would have to stay out and not pit. McMurray restarted on lap eight in 17th and just two laps later was scored in the eleventh position.
The Sprint Showdown consists of two 20-lap segments and after the first segment is complete, a competition caution comes out and allows teams to make a pit stop if they decide to. Wingo told his driver to stay out and not pit during the break, so McMurray did, and the Crown Royal Ford restarted in eighth on lap 21. The No. 26 machine drove its way up to third on lap 23, and within the closing laps of the Showdown, McMurray kicked it into high gear and passed the No. 12 for the second position and held onto it until the conclusion of the 40 laps.
Finishing second allowed for McMurray and his team to advance to the Sprint All-Star race which was starting immediately afterwards. The Crown Royal team had just enough time to fuel up the car, put on fresh tires, and make a few adjustments before it was necessary to get the car out onto the starting grid. McMurray began the All-Star race from the 20th starting position out of a 21-car field. Once again, McMurray and his team focused on the task at hand and knew that the All-Star race would be a little more complicated.
The Sprint All-Star race is a total of 100 laps broken down into four different segments. The first segment consists of 50 laps and has a required four-tire pit stop after lap 25. The two middle segments both have 20 laps in them, and then the final segment is a ten-lap shootout.
The green flag for the Sprint All-Star race waved at 9:19 p.m. EST and McMurray drove his way up into 14th by lap eight but continued to hold steady at the position on the leader board for the majority of the first segment. During the mandatory pit stop after lap 25, McMurray told Wingo that the car was “not turning well through the middle and it’s loose in and tight in the middle.” Wingo called for an air pressure adjustment during the stop along with the four tires and fuel.
The Crown Royal Ford finished 12th after the first segment and Wingo called his driver to pit road for two tires and fuel during the break in the action. The two-tire stop allowed McMurray to gain track position to the race leaders and he began segment two in the third position. The two tires didn’t prove to be as strong as four however, but McMurray was able to hold on to the sixth position as the field ended the second segment.
Wingo opted for a four tire stop during the break, as well as another series of air pressure adjustments aimed to help his driver combat some of the handling issues he was facing. McMurray restarted 14th as the field began segment three, but the yellow flag came out during lap 72 after contact between the No. 77 and the No. 16. The majority of the field opted to stay out and McMurray was able to gain four positions by the end of the segment.
With the final segment right around the corner, Wingo told his driver to put it on the line and to give it his all in the final ten laps. Caution laps didn’t count towards the laps completed so this was the no-holds-barred finale that fans came to the race for. With nothing to lose and $1 million on the line, the final ten laps would be a chance for drivers to do whatever it takes in order to claim that top spot.
McMurray restarted tenth, and with three cautions in the final segment, found himself only being able to advance up to finish ninth for all his efforts. In the end, McMurray and his Crown Royal team finished ninth when the checkered flag fell after lap 100.
“I’m so proud of our team tonight,” said McMurray after the race. “Our Crown Royal Ford so good tonight in the Showdown that it allowed us to race our way into the All-Star race which is really why we’re here. Our car’s handling changed a bit as we started the All-Star race and was tight in the middle of the turns. We tried a series of air pressure adjustments, but in the end, we just weren’t able to race our way to the front. I’m still so proud of our team tonight because we got to compete in the All-Star race, and racing our way in, was a great way to do it.”
Tony Stewart won Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway making it his first win as a driver and owner of his team. Stewart passed Matt Kenseth on lap 99 in Turn 2 to claim the victory and the $1 million prize. Kenseth finished second while Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five finishers.
Next weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600. Pre-race television coverage begins on Sunday, May 24th at 5:00p.m. EST on FOX. Radio coverage will be provided by the Performance Racing Network.
Lowe’s Motor Speedway (1.5-mile speedway)
Sunday, May 24, 2009