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McMurray finding his stride

October 04, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver has finished 11th or better in five of the past eight races

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Jamie McMurray's finishes of fifth and 11th at New Hampshire and Dover in his last two starts aren't startling. In fact, the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver had often run well at this point in the season.

He can't explain it and doesn't really understand it, but McMurray, 37, admits it's not unusual for his performance to show improvement once the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup gets under way.

If only he were among those invited.

The Joplin, Mo., native has never been among those competing for the Chase.

"I don't know; I just give the same effort every week," McMurray said Friday morning at Kansas Speedway, site of Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400. "I don't know if there are some guys that get deflated when they don't make the Chase … it seems like maybe some of those teams start trying other off-the-wall ideas because they're not in the Chase."

In 2004, the first year of the Chase and a year in which his team was docked 25 points for a template infraction, he missed the cutoff by 15 points. He went on to post eight top-10 finishes in the final 10 races. 

A year later, he was 10th heading into the cutoff race at Richmond, nursing a one-point lead. But a crash with 38 laps remaining left him 40th and once again on the outside looking in. He finished 12th or better in five of the 10 Chase races and was 12th in the final points standings.

In '08, his final four races of the season were finishes of seventh, third, third and third.

Twice he's won races in the Chase -- in '09 at Talladega and the following year at Charlotte.

With rule changes expected to be unveiled during the offseason, McMurray said there's even less reason to alter the path that's produced seven top-10s and a best of second (at Kentucky) this season. Five of his last eight starts have produced finishes of 11th or better, a marked improvement from where the team was earlier this season. Recent efforts that have shown promise should be built upon, not torn down, he said.

"For most of the teams, there's not really anything to gain by doing things off the wall because the rules are going to change so much next year with the ground zero car and not having the ride height rules afterward that I don't really see a big advantage in experimenting," he said. "Because until we get to test that car in the offseason and we find out exactly what the rules are, I think for the rest of the year you just do what works best, but I can't give you a reason.

"It sure does seem odd that we've been a really good car not in the Chase."

McMurray knows the hot and cold nature of the sport. What works now will eventually fade. Something new will eventually come along.

"Right now we just have had a few really good races and our cars have been good," he said. "I feel like our mile-and-a-half program has been good so I expect to run well this weekend."

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