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McMurray, Ambrose come up short at Sonoma

June 22, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Strong contenders McMurray, Ambrose couldn't close the deal on the road course

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SONOMA, Calif. -- Just call it the land of lost opportunity.

Two drivers with much to gain in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 400 at Sonoma Raceway left empty-handed.

Jamie McMurray couldn’t pass Carl Edwards.

Marcos Ambrose couldn’t hold the lead. 

After 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, both are still winless.

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McMurray’s Chevrolet carried logos of sponsor Cesssna, and it flew like a jet a day earlier when he raced his way to the pole position. On Sunday, it kept him in contention, but a mistake on his part, he said afterward, cost him a shot at the victory.

Mixed emotions?

"I'm happy that I’m mad that I finished fourth," said McMurray, "if that makes any sense."

Barely 20 laps remained in the 110-lap race when the day’s final caution appeared. McMurray was second and filling the mirror of race leader Carl Edwards. "I was just waiting on him to make a mistake," the Chip Ganassi Racing driver said. 

Back under green, "I just used up too much car in (turns) 1 and 2, spun the tires really bad and paid the penalty for that the remainder of the run," he said.

Edwards drove away. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. streaked past. McMurray said he saw Earnhardt Jr. closing, and didn’t "put up a fight" because he knew the Hendrick driver was on fresher tires. 

"I was more worried about the No. 27 (of Paul Menard)," McMurray said. "He was another 10 seconds back."

McMurray has finished no worse than 13th in his last five starts, and Sunday's result was his best of the year, excluding a win in the Sprint All-Star event, a non-points race. 

"I just couldn’t make it happen. But we had a good day, we qualified well," he said. "Really solid weekend. … We were close, just didn’t have enough."

Ambrose, considered the most talented road racer in the series, started deep in the field (he qualified 23rd), then broke into the top 10 by lap 50. 

Having already pitted under green earlier, he restarted second following a yellow for a hard crash involving Matt Kenseth and Earnhardt Jr. when most of the front-running cars hit pit road.

On the restart, he drove past Clint Bowyer and into the lead, then stayed there for five laps. But he knew his car wasn’t capable of staying there.

"It was a handful," the Richard Petty Motorsports driver said. "We … had the fastest car for a couple of laps, but it would fade away really bad. We came here with a soft package and I was hanging on to it all day."

He said he hoped tire management would come into play, but added, "it didn't quite work out that way.

"We had to hang on … the car was loose; the car was tight. The car was sliding around, but that’s what Sonoma is all about," he said.

"… I'd plow the front and then I’d start getting greedy trying to get more and then I burned the rear tires off and had nothing left." 

Both McMurray (19th) and Ambrose (21st) are outside the top 16 in points. A victory would practically assure them a spot in the field, but only 10 races remain.

McMurray seems to be surging, so perhaps Sunday’s result is a sign of things to come. Ambrose, twice a winner at Watkins Glen, likely has that August race date circled on his calendar. 

Sonoma looked promising, but by day's end neither driver could collect. 

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