Texaco/Havoline driver Jaime McMurray parlayed his worst starting spot in three attempts at the Samsung/RadioShack 500 into a career-best Texas Motor Speedway finish today of second with the help of some stellar pit stops from his handy Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates crew.
McMurray, whose previous two trips to Texas resulted in a pair of 10th place runs, looked as though his day would be full of turmoil after a stop on lap five of 334 was deemed necessary to attend to a bent left front valance. The early yellow was for a melee at the start/finish line and McMurray was forced into the infield for some agricultural racing to avoid the mayhem.
Once the No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge was free and clear of pit lane, McMurray went on a tear that saw the Ganassi pilot cannon his way up through the thunderous 43-car pack. After restarting 34th on lap 16, the Joplin, M0., native worked his way around NASCAR’s best to reach the top three by lap 133.
Meanwhile, Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Casey Mears was having a day himself, and by the late stages of the 500-mile contest found his way to the lead by lap 299. As the canary flag unfurled over the field with his teammate at the point, McMurray was in good company running third with fellow CGR driver Sterling Marlin in arrears in fourth. As the race grew longer, the chances began to favor a Ganassi three-of-a-kind in NASCAR’s version of Texas Hold ‘Em.
But Mears had only taken on two tires in a gamble for track position, and McMurray soon found himself motoring his way around his teammate for second, proving the former NEXTEL Cup race winner a contender for tops honors at Texas.
With McMurray running out of time, he was forced to show his hand as the race wore on. Eventual race winner Greg Biffle had the car to beat, but McMurray was content in second considering he had moved up 29 spots from the time the green flag dropped.
Although the chips didn’t stack up in his favor when he went all-in on lap 334 at the finish, the Texaco/Havoline pilot was thrilled to bring home his best finish of 2005.
“On the first lap there was a huge accident, and we managed to get through it okay,” said McMurray, who moved up to 14th in NASCAR NEXTEL points with his 17th career top-five finish. “The pits stops by my guys were just awesome today. I just can’t say enough. Our motor program has been strong all year as well, and I think we were able to show that with a strong result today. My car was pretty much balanced all day– we just had to make a few air pressure adjustments here and there. Texas has always been one of my favorite tracks on the circuit and I’ve very pleased with running second here today.”
Chip Ganassi Racing stablemates Mears and Marlin made it a triple top-five day for the team, finishing fourth and fifth respectively. Both drivers gained a hefty six spots in points and now join McMurray in the all important Chase for the NEXTEL Cup.
Next up for the Texaco/Havoline team is the Subway Fresh 500 on Saturday night, under the lights at Phoenix International Raceway Sunday, April 17th at 7:30 pm ET.
almost won it a few times.