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McMurray overcomes illness for first top-10 in '12

March 12, 2012, Jill Erwin, NASCAR.com

LAS VEGAS -- Battling a stomach bug, EGR driver completes first race and finishes eighth

Jamie McMurray was in no mood to talk to anyone.

He showed up Sunday morning in the Las Vegas Motor Speedway garage, sick as a dog. Crew chief Kevin Manion said he knew McMurray hadn't eaten, and Manion doubted McMurray had eaten a bite.

It didn't stop the duo, and a stout No. 1 Chevrolet, from making all kinds of noise in the Kobalt Tools 400.

"[Jamie] didn't even want no talking on the radio ... you know how when you're not feeling good you don't want nothing? He could barely talk after the race. He just had to go."

--KEVIN MANION

"For Jamie to come through [Sunday] like he did for us was really big," Manion said. "He didn't even want no talking on the radio ... you know how when you're not feeling good you don't want nothing? He could barely talk after the race. He just had to go."

McMurray brought his car home eighth, his first top-10 finish of the season, despite not only his stomach bug but also an engine issue that reared its ugly head numerous times in the desert.

Expectations were high before Sunday's race before all the struggles -- physical and mechanical -- came to be.

"Going into this race, [Saturday] in Happy Hour, we felt really strong about our Chevrolet," Manion said. "I think it had the third- or fourth-best average overall. We were one of the cars that ran the most amount of laps in Happy Hour. We were just really excited about [the] race."

However, it didn't take long to dampen some of those hopes. McMurray's motor started giving him fits, and the crew took an extended pit stop on Lap 47 to take a look.

It didn't fix everything, but it got McMurray back out on the track and allowed him to continue to run fast times despite being mired back in the field. Manion eventually made a key call to give McMurray the track position he needed. Under caution on Lap 131, Manion opted for two tires instead of four, restarting third.

"We ran top-five lap times most of the day," Manion said. "Just getting there was the next problem. Not overly excited about an eighth-place finish when we had a top-five car.

"The team needed a finish. Last week was a disappointment and we just haven't had a finish. [Sunday], after the third time this year, we've finally got a finish to show for it. That will help us in the points and we'll move on to Bristol."

Manion wasn't kidding. Sunday's race was the first time this season McMurray's car has been running at the end of the race. He was 31st at Daytona after a crash, and an engine failure at Phoenix left him 37th. McMurray's eighth at Las Vegas catapulted him 11 spots in the standings to 25th.

In the end, that two-tire call was exactly the risk-vs.-reward gamble the team needed to put the car back near the front of the field. Manion said he expected more than just a handful of teams to make the same call he did.

"I was kind of surprised, but four wasn't the wrong call there either, but two for us was the right call," Manion said. "It all depends on ... we felt we had a good air-pressure adjustment in our lefts and we knew we felt we could go the rest of the day with them, so that's why we left them on."

Manion also felt that his team did as well as it could with the much cooler temperatures they saw Sunday compared to Friday and Saturday. Had the conditions stayed as they were earlier in the race weekend, Manion thinks the team could have actually gotten the finish that matched what they brought to the track.

"The sun's out right now, but for half the race I was looking for my jacket," Manion said. "I think that would have helped our setup -- a hot, greasy track -- because we did fight tight for most of the day and kept up on it for the most part. But there at the end it was just a little too tight."

Watch highlights from the Kobalt Tools 400: