The waiting game paid off for Jamie McMurray at Talladega Superspeedway.
McMurray knew if he could regain the lead Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, there was a good chance he would stay there.
And he did.
“The thing about the package we have right now is that you can get the third guy in line to push the second guy and it’s hard to defend,” said McMurray, who posted his seventh career win and second at Talladega. "You just have to make your car as wide as you can. Quite honestly, I don’t know what I was going to do”.
With many of the Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers simply concerned with finishing the race and hanging around the back of the pack, McMurray was in a prime spot after taking the lead with 15 laps remaining in the Camping World 500.
For the next 10 laps he led that conga line around the 2.66-mile superspeedway, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard. McMurray still couldn’t believe that none of the competitors — including Junior, who had led 38 laps — were challenging him for the lead.
“With 10 laps left to go, I kind of thought that it wasn’t reality yet,” McMurray said. "Then, with five to go, I could tell (Earnhardt) was being patient. Then when they could never get the bottom line to form I knew it was going to come down to the first three or four cars. It’s unfortunate that the caution came out, but for me, I don’t know how I was going to defend that.”
Even Junior, who felt the No. 88 Chevy was the best machine he’s had since moving to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, hesitated from pulling out of the draft.
“I’m pretty sure Jamie wasn’t just going to let me go by,” Earnhardt said. “He was going to side draft and it was going to play hell trying to get the lead from that point.
“I don’t know what Austin would have done for sure, but I assumed, knowing him as I do, he was probably going to help me once. You know what I mean? And after that you’re on your own."
With five laps remaining in the race, Kevin Harvick peeked to the inside and took Jimmie Johnson with him. However, the inside line never really materialized, nor could the drivers find the necessary momentum to catch the McMurray-led line around the top.
“I thought for sure, as good as the middle was all day long, I thought for sure the 20 (Matt Kenseth), the 22 (Joey Logano), 48 (Johnson), some of those guys would get that rolling at the end, and it just never happened,” Menard said. “My spotter (Stevie Reeves) kept telling me where they were, and I think the closest guy was like six cars behind us. I’m pretty surprised that it didn’t make further headway.”
Coming around on the white flag lap, Dillon pulled out of the line to make his move but Stenhouse couldn’t slow his run and punted the No. 14 Chevy, sending it airborne and freezing the field through the checkered flag with McMurray in the lead followed by Earnhardt, Stenhouse, Menard and Kyle Busch.
“I was trying to go for the win there,” said Dillon, who finished 26th. “The No. 17 (Stenhouse) had a little bit of a run with the No. 27 (Menard) and I tried to go with him and came back across and hooked me. That was a lot of fun right there, coming to the white flag at Talladega and having a shot to win.
“I was going to push Junior right there. He had a pretty good car. Just trying to wait until the end and they made a move and I tried to block it and it didn’t work out.”
Taking no prisoners
Forgive Earnhardt Jr. for being selfish at Talladega Superspeedway.
After all, when he’s attempted to help his teammates here in the past, the only thing it’s gotten for him is burned.
On Sunday, Junior had the caliber of car generally reserved for his Daytona rides. Forty-nine laps into the race, the No. 88 Chevy led for the first time. He reached the point seven more times for a total of 38 laps before finishing second — his best finish on the 2.66-mile track since 2009.
“We had a really good car,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve had some good cars at Daytona. For some reason, we come to Talladega, we haven’t been able to get them to run or we’d tear them up and never find out how good they were. For some reason, today the car was fast. I didn’t really have to worry about who we were working with or around.
“I really didn’t try to piss anybody off, but I just didn’t worry about trying to help everybody and trying to be everybody’s friend out there. You’ve got a run, you take it. Everybody sort of understands what the situation is. When you get a good run, they don’t come every lap, you’ve got to take your opportunities.”
It was Earnhardt’s 10th top-five finish and his 14th top 10 in 28 Talladega starts.
Jeff Burton started second but finished 21st. He explained why via Twitter:
Couldn’t really go like I wanted 2 at the end. Mirror broke. It’s hard to be real aggressive when u r not sure what’s next to u.
47: Laps led by Johnson, the new points leader Johnson, who swapped places with Kenseth and holds a four-point advantage.
16: Top-five finishes for Kyle Busch, the most on the Sprint Cup tour.
7: Years since multiple non-Chase drivers have won races in the playoffs. This season, Brad Keselowski and McMurray pulled off the feat in consecutive races. In 2006, Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers were victorious back-to-back at Kansas and Talladega, then Stewart won the 33rd (Atlanta) and 34th (Fort Worth) races.
After Dillon’s wild ride at Talladega Superspeedway, he tweeted: