Daytona Beach, FL (July 4, 2009) – Jamie McMurray and his IRWIN MARATHON team traveled to Florida for the Fourth of July holiday in search of a solid Top-10 finish after a disappointing outing the weekend before at Loudon. McMurray, who won the July race at Daytona in 2007 knew the superspeedway racing at Daytona would be full of challenges due to the high speeds and three-wide racing. After starting from 22nd, McMurray had driven his way up to the tenth position before the call came in that the right front tire of the car had been cut. Despite the set-back for track position, McMurray survived the rest of the night unscathed and crossed the finish line in 11th.
Racing at Daytona in July is oppressively hot for drivers and their teams and the greatest challenge is handling and a lack of grip. The IRWIN team started out their weekend with two practice sessions Thursday afternoon, but then Friday’s qualifying session was cancelled after rain showers forced officials to set the starting line-up by the rulebook. McMurray and his No. 26 Ford began Saturday night’s race from the 22nd starting position. The green flag waved at 8:21 p.m. EST with temperatures around 81 degrees and the humidity level at 72 percent. As the cars took their warm-up laps, crew chief Donnie Wingo reminded his driver to “be smart, run smooth, and let’s make it to the end.”
During the opening run, McMurray opted to fall back into the pack in an effort to drive around, assess his car’s handling, and hope to avoid any collisions that may take place ahead of him. At a track where incidents can happen in the blink of an eye, reaction time is important. During lap 12, McMurray radioed into his team that he was running at about 50 percent, and that even though the car was tight at the start, he was able to drive better than the majority of those around him.
The first caution of the night came on lap 13 and Wingo called his driver down pit road on lap 15 for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. The change helped to free up the No. 26 machine and the team performed similar changes just 15 laps later during another caution. McMurray radioed in to his team during lap 38 that the IRWIN MARATHON Ford was tight off the turns, but pretty good everywhere else. McMurray continued to ask his team for assistance to free up the car’s handling a bit, and during lap 60, the IRWIN pit crew serviced the car with a routine four tire stop along with another series of air pressure adjustments. The No. IRWIN MARATHON Ford restarted 19th on lap 62 as the leader board saw the No. 26 steadily climb its ranks over the next 15 laps up to the ninth position.
A huge multi-car wreck on the backstretch happened just behind McMurray during lap 76, but he was able to benefit from the caution and come in for adjustments. During the yellow flag, Wingo asked his driver about the car’s handling, and McMurray responded by saying that the car was really loose, but better off the turns than it had been. The IRWIN team made another round of air pressure adjustments and McMurray restarted ninth on lap 83.
McMurray was setting his sights on the front of the field, when suddenly the call came across the team’s radio that it felt like a tire was going down. McMurray immediately came down pit road for service. The team gave the IRWIN Ford four tires and fuel and discovered that the right front tire had in fact been cut. Pitting under green found the No. 26 a lap down to the race leaders, but just four laps later during lap 103, the caution came out, and McMurray found himself the recipient of the “lucky dog” free pass award.
With four fresh tires on, McMurray began to climb towards the front of the pack again even though he found himself mired in the middle of the field. By lap 131 the IRWIN MARATHON Ford was back up in the tenth position which McMurray was able to hold on to until he got stuck in the shuffling of the field. The last caution of the night came on lap 153 with only seven laps remaining in the race, and despite being tight in the closing laps; McMurray was able to cross the line in eleventh despite the fact that he didn’t have any drafting partners at the end.
“We had a pretty good car tonight,” said McMurray after the race. “We just never really got our track position that we wanted. We got quite a ways up there, like seventh or eighth, by the middle of the race but then we got a flat tire and had to pit immediately under green. The stop put us towards the back and we had to work our way forward for the rest of the race. Even with the flat tire, it wasn’t a bad day for our IRWIN MARATHON team.”
Tony Stewart won Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 after a last lap tap of Kyle Busch that sent Busch sailing into the wall and across the frontstretch as the field came to the checkered flag. Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top three for the night after Hamlin had led the most laps of the evening. McMurray and his IRWIN MARATHON Ford finished 11th and left Daytona moving up three positions in the driver point standings.
Next weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Chicagoland Speedway for the LifeLock.com 400. Pre-race television coverage begins on Saturday, July 11th at 6:30p.m. EST on TNT. Radio coverage will be provided by the Motor Racing Network.
Chicagoland Speedway (1.5-mile speedway)
Saturday, July 11, 2009