Jamie McMurray Making His Way Into The Chase

A flick of the switch in tonight’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway will mean a 12th driver and team making their way into this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship field.

This particular racer and his organization did their part (somewhat) by qualifying for tonight’s race in the 31st position.  Sure, it’s not a luxurious starting spot and heck, every competitor has that superstition where they must actually get through an event before thinking about the big picture.

Jamie McMurray has raced 13 competitive full-time campaigns in the Cup series seemingly coming up a tad short from making the postseason filed.  Heartbreaks from 2004 and ’05 were accompanied by short but no cigar results in ’07, ’08, ’10, and the past few seasons.

Recall that McMurray went on a Ganassi sabbatical from 2006-’09 when he raced with the Roush Fenway Racing banner, scoring two wins at Daytona and Talladega in that period.  While he was able to snap his nearly five year winless streak by winning the 400-miler in the July ’07 race at Daytona, those five years at this perennial Ford outlet wasn’t exactly this racer’s brightest chapters in his Cup career.

Jamie McMurray makes his way around the track.

Jamie McMurray makes his way around the track.

Following the 2009 season, McMurray returned to the Ganassi fold as the driver of the No. 1 Chevy and immediately, it was like magic when they won the 2010 Daytona 500.  Wins at Indianapolis and Charlotte later in the year propelled the 2003 rookie winner to a 14th place points finish.

Since then, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag for the veteran driver.  Of course, there’s the sentimental victory in the 2013 Talladega fall race but in between, it’s been close calls but Buffalo Bills-like outcomes.

Rest assured, McMurray has always been a racer capable of grinding out a top-five or top-10 finishes, even when his car wasn’t to his liking.  Working with crew chiefs like Donnie Wingo, Jimmy Fennig, Bob Osborne, Wally Brown, Larry Cater, Kevin “Bono” Manion, and Keith Rodden throughout his career, it seemed like those combinations were decent but just not enough to catalyze those budding, promising runs into consistent strong finishes.

Jamie McMurray and crew chief Matt McCall either talking about the No. 1 Chevy or about whose hair is neater.

Jamie McMurray and crew chief Matt McCall either talking about the No. 1 Chevy or about whose hair is neater.

Enter crew chief Matt McCall into the picture for this year.  Throughout this season, they’ve compiled a pair of top-fives and seven top-10 results which put him 10th in the regular points standings or 12th in the Chase Grid.

McCall, a former racer, has been a solid leader for the No. 1 Cessna/McDonald’s Chevy SS team fielded by Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates.  In all, it seems like the Ganassi/Sabates organization has improved a bit, particularly with this team’s stout performances in 2015.

Although teammate Kyle Larson and his No. 42 Target Chevy brigade haven’t been able to duplicate their strong results from last year, mostly due to bad circumstances in the midst of a great run, McMurray and company have finally been able to convert those excellent performances with terrific finishes.

Perhaps their best stretch so far in the year took place between the spring races at Dover through Michigan when the 39-year-old Joplin, MO native scored three straight seventh place results.  That streak may have been broken at Sonoma with an 11th but that steady consistency has been enough for this team to points race their way into the Chase Grid.

Essentially, McMurray just needs to start his car’s engine shortly after 7:37 PM ET and that much anticipated shot at the championship is finally in his clutches.  This is a racer who has knocked on the door, repeatedly come close but ultimately short for postseason glory.

Jamie McMurray is like, "I just need to start my car up, fools!"

Jamie McMurray is like, “I just need to start my car up, fools!”

At last, no matter how McMurray’s night goes after he starts up his No. 1 Chevy, it’s going to be a great one for the Ganassi organization.  In what has been a banner year for this powerhouse team in motorsports with this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series championship won by Scott Dixon, the stock car party will finally happen for at least one evening down in Henrico County, VA.

After tonight’s race and festivities are over, it’ll be about prepping up for Chicagoland and that first run at the title. Their mission, much like their 15 rivals, will be advancing past each round, winning to ease those concerns.  If a victory is not in the offing, they can at least opt for their trademark game: grinding out those top-five to top-10 finishes.

This year might have dominant forces like Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske enjoying the spoils of Victory Lane. Chevrolet’s top team has seemingly been Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing for the past five years but do not dismiss the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates effort of Jamie McMurray at all.  Underdogs in racing may not be so frequent but this is one story that you’ll want to pay close attention to in the upcoming 10 races.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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