AVONDALE, Ariz. (November 9, 2008) – Jamie McMurray and the No. 26 IRWIN Industrial Tools team put on a spectacular show in the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday afternoon. McMurray battled desert rain and two red flags to secure a second straight third-place finish and third top-five finish of the season.
The IRWIN Industrial Tools Ford was dialed in right off the hauler on Friday afternoon. It showed as McMurray laid down a great lap, qualifying in the second position. The team continued to fine tune their Ford Fusion during the last two practice sessions and were optimistic they had a shot at a win.
McMurray quickly made his presence felt, leading the first 19 laps of the race after pulling away from polesitter Jimmie Johnson. The first caution of the day flew on lap 19 for a one car spin in turn four. Crew chief Larry Carter called McMurray to pit road for minor adjustments on lap 21. Carter ordered four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment.
McMurray restarted in the seventh position on lap 25. On lap 31 rain began to fall on the track forcing NASCAR to halt the race and ultimately park the field on pit road until the showers ceased and the track could be dried. The race was halted a total of 25 minutes. When the field began to roll many opted to pit but Carter told McMurray to stay on the track. When green-flag racing resumed on lap 47 McMurray was in the fourth position.
During a long green-flag run McMurray continued to push his way back to the front. On lap 85 McMurray passed Kurt Busch for the second position and appeared ready to reel in race leader Jimmie Johnson. On lap 90 McMurray commented his Ford Fusion was pretty loose, but it did not affect his lap times. Carter called McMurray to the pits on lap 100 for a standard green flag pit stop. Carter ordered four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. McMurray cycled through green-flag stops and was in the second position once again by lap 111.
During the next 70 laps McMurray continued to stalk Jimmie Johnson for the top spot. As McMurray gained ground on Johnson a debris caution flew on lap 216. Carter called McMurray to the pit stall on the same lap for four tires and fuel. The IRWIN Industrial Tools pit crew was stellar in getting McMurray back on the track ahead of the No.48 team. When green-flag racing resumed on lap 218 McMurray was the race leader.
On lap 250 McMurray began to have minor handling problems. McMurray commented his Ford Fusion was tight through the middle. McMurray dropped two spots during the run, but settled into the fourth position undeterred.
On lap 273 the caution flew when five-car wreck ensued in turn three. NASCAR had no choice but to red-flag the race when the No.38 car ended up on the roof of the No. 84 machine. Once the track was clear McMurray and the team opted not to pit. McMurray restarted the race in the third position on lap 279.
The race was halted three more times for multiple wrecks in the back of the field, causing the race to end in a green-white-checkered shootout. McMurray was able to fend off Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards for a spectacular third-place finish.
“When the race started, I really thought we might have the car to beat,” said McMurray. I got by Jimmie on the outside and was able to somewhat check out, but when I got back in traffic you get so tight when you get behind guys. I thought if I could ever get me back out front, I’ll be able to drive away from those guys. Our car got tighter as the day went on. The run right before I was in the lead with Jimmie behind me on one of those re-starts our car got really tight all of a sudden. So, they just did a better job on adjusting on their car and getting it better as the race went on. Still, it was a really solid weekend for our IRWIN Industrial Tools team.”
The third-place finish leaves McMurray 16th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings. McMurray and the team will return to action next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Ford Championship 400
Homestead-Miami Speedway (1.5-mile speedway)
November 16th, 2008