Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet went airborne roughly 10 minutes into Friday’s final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Talladega Superspeedway, barrel rolling down the backstretch and forcing several drivers to bring out their back-up vehicles.
McMurray emerged from the car and walked to a waiting ambulance to take him to be evaluated at the care center.
“I think I blew a left rear tire out,” McMurray said. “When you’re going that fast and you go sideways you kind of know someone is going to hit you.”
Because McMurray’s car lifted off the ground and because practice speeds were so fast, NASCAR officials made a rules tweak to the existing race package at Talladega, all in the name of safety. Officials reduced the size of the engine restrictor plates from 7/8 of an inch to 55/64th of an inch in an effort to slow the cars ahead of Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
A NASCAR spokesperson said the change was “absolutely a safety issue” and that the series was positioned to react when cars lift off the racing surface.
RELATED: More on rules tweak
McMurray ended up recording the fastest practice speed about five minutes into the session, traveling 203.975 mph while navigating the track in close quarters in the draft. His No. 1 Chevrolet cut the left rear tire, according to Chip Ganassi Racing, and turned sideways in front of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Ryan Newman.
The impact from the nose of Newman’s car launched McMurray’s machine into the air. The car barrel-rolled down the backstretch, clipping the inside fencing as it rotated. The car landed upright, and McMurray emerged unhurt.
“When I realized I was going to flip, I actually shut my eyes because I don’t really want to see what’s getting ready to happen,” McMurray said. “And then it just kept, it seemed like forever. I opened my eyes a couple times and I couldn’t, I’m like I don’t know if I’m going up or down or where it’s going to hit next. So I was just thankful when it finally … a couple of times I thought it was going to stop and it just kind of kept going.”
McMurray and Newman both will move to backup cars and will start from the rear of the field according to NASCAR rules. So will Ty Dillon and Daniel Suarez, who also were involved in the chain-reaction accident as the trailing cars checked up behind McMurray and Newman.
Dillon was fastest in Friday’s opening practice.
“I just hate that we don’t get to take that car that had so much speed in practice to the race, but I think we can duplicate it with our backup car,” Dillon said. “I think that our setup was really good, and I think we can be just fine going to the race.
“Just unfortunate to tear up a race car. Nobody’s fault really. Jamie had a flat left rear and kind of a scary ride there.”
Even though the drivers involved are all going to back-up cars, that shouldn’t dissuade fantasy players from the use of McMurray, Newman, Dillon or Suarez. Starting from the back means little at Talladega as the draft and drivers dropping to the back at various points will see plenty of comers and goers in the mix throughout the day. The plays really come down to who you believe in and who you like at Talladega. Bottom line, drivers going to the rear shouldn’t factor into your decision at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. — RJ Kraft
Contributing: Zack Albert (NASCAR.com) and Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service)