McMurray down but not desperate
August 27, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
Speaking with reporters on a national teleconference Wednesday, Jamie McMurray joked that while he appreciates the excitement generated from a high drama, white-knuckle, must-win situation in these final two weeks to set NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup field, it just doesn't feel like a desperate existence for him.
It's business as usual for the mild-mannered 2010 Daytona 500 champ. And business is always about a win.
"Gosh, I'd love to make it more dramatic than it is,'' McMurray said with a laugh, adding, "but you race every single week to win and it doesn't matter if you're fighting for a spot to get in the Chase or whether you're just in the Chase and you compete for the championship.
"So, even though we're down to two races, it's really not any different than it was at the Daytona 500, the first race of the year. The goal is the same every week. You can't really do anything different just because we're down to two races.''
With the way McMurray and his Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Cessna Chevy has been front-running lately, there isn't much he would want to do differently except convert mid-race success to the last lap.
Last week at Bristol Motor Speedway, for example, McMurray led three times for a race-best 148 laps (out of 500) -- and was leading with 68 laps remaining, but finished eighth.
It was his second top-10 in the last four races and McMurray is technically ranked 16th in the points standings.
But, with the new Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format's emphasis on "the win," McMurray is on the outside of the 16-driver Chase eligible field – leap-frogged by five drivers ranked behind in him points but who have the all important victory that gives them an automatic Chase berth.
For McMurray, a win at the super fast Atlanta 1.5-miler or next week in the regular season finale at the 3/4-mile Richmond short track is his surest path into the Chase.
Two of his seven career Cup wins -- plus the Sprint Cup All-Star Race victory in May -- have come at the 1.5-mile Charlotte track. He has four top-10s in 20 starts at Atlanta's mile-and-halfer. He finished 11th in the race last year. He finished 13th at Richmond in May, but only has four top-10s in 23 starts there and a total of 25 laps led.
McMurray is optimistic, however, that a combination of Ganassi's Hendrick-powered engines, a good-handling car and the right calls atop the pit box could put him in position for a season-making trophy.
"I feel really good at both of those (tracks),'' McMurray said. "Those tracks are somewhat unique because the tire fall-off is so big that strategy comes into play. If you get a long green flag run, a guy that short-pits has a big advantage. And it seems like at both of those places, we always get a caution with less than five laps to go.''
A part of McMurray's confidence and optimism comes from the fact he's had good cars for months, just not the results to show for it.
"I feel like really since, even before winning the All-Star race that we've had great cars,'' McMurray stressed. "We tend to run better than where we've finished. I feel like after the last pit stop, somehow the car hasn't went the way it needed to be.
"At the beginning of the year, it was kind of the opposite. It seems like we finished better than what we raced. If we can just put a whole weekend together and be able to finish off as well as or better than we ran throughout the race, I feel like the next two races should be really good for us.''