Richmond NASCAR Notebook: Jamie McMurray Energized With Fourth Place Finish

(NASCAR Wire Service)

By Chris Knight ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Jamie McMurray (1) and eventual race winner Kurt Busch (41) on track during Sunday's Sprint Cup Series event at Richmond International Raceway (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jamie McMurray (1) and eventual race winner Kurt Busch (41) on track during Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series event at Richmond International Raceway (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

RICHMOND, Va. – For a while, it appeared that the only car that could challenge Kurt Busch for the Toyota Owners 400 win was Jamie McMurray.

McMurray started ninth in Sunday’s rain postponed race, but as the event settled into a nearly 100-lap green flag run, McMurray hustled his way to the front, taking the lead momentarily on Lap 259, and then again on Lap 262 for three laps, before heading to pit road for a routine stop.

When a caution flag flew shortly before the stops cycled through, McMurray found himself a beneficiary of the free pass, but having to climb from behind once again. The Joplin, Missouri native made his way back to second, but had to settle for fourth at the race’s conclusion.

“Well, this Energizer Chevy was just good on the long runs,” said McMurray who jumped to ninth in points after his fourth top 10 of 2015.

“It was a lot of fun to get to be the guy that had the speed at the end. Kurt’s (Busch) car just took off so much faster than ours. I’m really proud of our guys. We had a little bit of a hiccup in the pits at the beginning, and those guys did a good job of brushing that off and giving me good pit stops toward the end.”

McMurray’s energizing performance not only gives momentum to his Chip Ganassi Racing team, but also sends a message to his competition that a win and, more importantly, a possible berth into this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup may not be too far off the horizon.

Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson rally for top-10 finishes
When practice concluded Friday at Richmond International Raceway, it appeared that Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson would be likely contenders for the Toyota Owners 400 pole, and possibly, the race win.

Instead, both drivers found themselves having to rally from their poor qualifying efforts.

Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson qualified 36th on Friday, but methodically climbed through the field. Johnson didn’t score his third win of the season, but his third-place finish felt like a moral victory in itself.

“We had a great race car and I really felt like that was the case on Friday, except for our qualifying lap,” said Johnson. “I don’t know what happened on Friday and in general, I’m not the best qualifier. We worked hard to make it last in the long run and with all the long runs that we had, I was able to get through the field and get this Lowe’s Pro Service Chevy up front. Those last few restarts I was able to hang on and duke it out with those guys and get a nice top three finish.”

Starting deeper in the field, Kahne showed speed early with an impressive climb from his 40th starting spot to crack the top-10 by Lap 100. From there, Kahne’s progression was slower, and he admitted his Hendrick Motorsports team fought through inconsistencies with the handling.

“It was pretty inconsistent; there were good runs and bad runs,” Kahne said. “For whatever reason, that last run was really good. I was happy with the way the day ended up.”

Salvaging a sixth-place run and his fourth top-10 finish of the year, Kahne feels good about the progression of his No. 5 team. After nine races, the Enumclaw, Washington native occupies sixth in the championship standings.

“The team did a good job,” Kahne said. “The pit stops were consistent and strong all day. I would say our best race of the year there, at least it felt like one of our better ones. I felt good about that and we just have to keep working. We are getting closer at times. I’m glad we finished strong today because the second-to-last run was a really bad run.”

Chase Elliott Solid In Richmond Sprint Cup Effort
Quietly, Chase Elliott had a solid performance in Sunday’s postponed Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

While the reigning NASCAR XFINITY Series champion contended for a top-10 finish late, the Dawsonville, Georgia native eventually settled for a respectable 16th-place finish in his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start of the season. The effort was a worthy recovery from his Sprint Cup Series debut at Martinsville Speedway last month where an early race accident resulted in a disappointing 38th-place finish.

“I felt like we had a really solid day overall,” said Elliott, who finished fifth in Friday night’s XFINITY Series race. “I was a little disappointed though there at the end that I fell back and then couldn’t get going at the restart. But overall, everybody on our NAPA team did great this weekend.”

Elliott, one of nine double-duty drivers this weekend at Richmond added, “I thought we had a fast car, especially in race trim. The guys made good adjustments to qualify where we did. We had a great car on the long run. We could really run well and run some guys down late in the run.

“Unfortunately, it always comes down to the short runs in these things. So, we’ll try to get better and hopefully try to have a better effort at Charlotte.”

Elliott, the soon-to-be successor of Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 in 2016 will attempt his third of five Cup races this season at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the series’ longest race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24.

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