Jamie McMurray’s emotional victory in Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway was proof positive of one of the most fundamental verities of motorsports: There are a lot of ways to lose a race, but to win one requires doing just about everything right.
You can lose a race by being too aggressive early on and crashing, as Kyle Busch did.
You can lose a race with a bad final pit stop, which is what happened to Kevin Harvick.
You can lose a race by not having enough speed in your car, something that hurt Tony Stewart all race long.
You can lose a race by not executing on the final restart, a mistake that cost Carl Edwards the victory.
You can lose a race by not missing a crash in front of you, which is how Joey Logano got knocked out of the race.
You can lose a race when something breaks on your car, as it did with Jeff Gordon.
But winning, that requires a nearly perfect night.
Which is exactly what McMurray had. His Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet SS was fast, his pit calls by crew chief Keith Rodden were spot on, his driving was aggressive but controlled, and his adversaries had plenty of struggles.
Track position would be a key to McMurray’s success. Rodden called for a four-tire change on Lap 25 of the 90-lap race and didn’t change four again until the mandatory four-tire stop after Lap 80. That allowed McMurray to maintain good track position and he started the final 10-lap segment second.
"I think Keith made some great calls tonight," said car owner Ganassi.
With passing at a premium and just 10 laps to settle the race, it was obvious that the winner would almost certainly come out of the first two rows on the last restart.
That’s how it played out, Edwards starting in the top spot and McMurray second.
"I knew that that final segment it was us and somebody else were going to run for this million dollars," Rodden said.
When it came time for McMurray to get up on the wheel, he did just that, fighting a clean but aggressive battle with Edwards to get the lead and keep it shortly after the start of the final segment.
"He just drove amazing," Rodden said of McMurray. "All 10 laps were amazing, but that race with Carl was really special."
Yes, it was. And McMurray knew it.
"I think the mentality going into that last segment is just all or nothing, and that was my thought process," McMurray said. "I was like, ‘I don’t really care if we wreck, I don’t care what happens, I’m racing for a million dollars, I get to start on the front row and I’m going to make the very most out of the restart and everything that goes with this.’ "
McMurray, who has past Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 victories to his credit, came up huge again in a big event. Right driver, right place, right time.
"It was awesome," McMurray said. "It’s three or four of the hardest laps I’ve ever driven in my racing career, and it’s one of those memories that I hope I never forget. I have such a clear vision of those three or four laps with the 99 car being on the inside of me, and it’s what we wake up every single day and live for is to get to be put in that exact position. It’s really awesome."