I guess you can say Jamie McMurray sort of put a Big Mac Attack on the field Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
What an impressive performance by McMurray and the entire No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team. Charlotte has to be one of his most favorite tracks. He got his first-ever Cup win there a few years ago driving in relief of Sterling Marlin. He finished second at Charlotte in May. Obviously with a first- and second-place finish there in two races, he and the team have that place figured out.
McMurray’s car was fast when it needed to be and a lot of other teams couldn’t say that. Now sure, a lot of teams could say their car was fast, but they couldn’t say it was fast when they needed it to be. Some teams can only put the beginning of a race together. Some can put the beginning and middle together. There simply aren’t a lot of teams out there that can put all three parts of a race together.
Even though it started deep in the field, that No. 1 car quickly made its way to the front. That team definitely had the fastest car on the track when it counted.
I am really proud of Jamie Mac.
I’ve told you many times that what is so amazing about his season is that one year ago he didn’t even know if he was going to have a job this year. Jamie also explained Saturday night how deep his faith has become. You saw him give the credit for his win to the Lord Saturday night and he talked how praying has helped him get through some difficult times. Jamie’s life has changed dramatically since a year ago. He’s with a great team this year.
He and his crew chief, Kevin Manion, have incredible chemistry together. McMurray’s married and they are expecting their first child.
His is a perfect example to me of how a driver matures. Getting married and starting a family stabilizes your life. All the other options and temptations are now behind you. I think having that new focus really makes you a better race car driver. You see Jimmie Johnson and his wife with their first child. Jeff Gordon and his wife have had their second. I just really believe having the stability of a marriage and family allows you to focus more on racing. I know it worked that way for me and I think it is for Jamie Mac.
You probably wouldn’t have picked Jamie Mac at the drop of the green to be your pick to win the race.
Actually you can say that about a number of folks.
Who would have thought that after spinning out early in the race, Jimmie Johnson could have rebounded with a third-place finish?
Not only did Jimmie challenge for the lead, but also for the win. Whatever they did to that car when he came into the pits after spinning out, well that thing came alive. He was able to work his way to the front after that. That has to be encouraging to the No. 48 team and discouraging to the other 11 competitors in the Chase. You just knew when he spun those 11 other teams were thinking he had finally slipped up and they were going to make up some ground.
Nobody could really do it.
Denny Hamlin did a nice job of getting his car up in the top five. Poor Jeff Gordon, he had problems all night long. The No. 24 team broke one of my Golden Rules — they beat themselves. There was just a laundry list of things that went wrong for them Saturday evening. Beating yourself is just the worst kind of loss you can have.
Kurt Busch got into trouble. So did Tony Stewart. I really thought Tony was poised to make some more noise in the Chase for the Sprint Cup after his win last week in California. It just seems like these teams work so hard to get into the Chase and then they fall apart.
Look at the No. 18 car. Yes, Kyle Busch finished second Saturday night, but just go look at his performance in all the Chase races he has participated in. He can have a great regular season, but for some reason once he gets into the Chase things seem to fall apart around him.
When the Chase started this year, who were the top three contenders? Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick were. Who are the contenders right now? Yup, the same three guys. You had guys that qualified for the Chase more than 500 points behind. Naturally when the Chase starts their points are re-set. They couldn’t get the job done in 26 races, so what makes you think they could do any better in the last 10 races?
For the life of me, I still don’t understand it. When the Chase starts, aren’t the same things that are wrong with your team or wrong with your cars going to still be there? Who thinks the issues you had in the first 26 races of the season will magically go away in the last 10? It just doesn’t work that way. The teams at the bottom of the Chase when it started are at the bottom now and I wager will be at the bottom when it ends. It’s all based on performance.
Look at the Roush Fenway Racing cars. They are hit and miss. They are on and off. Carl Edwards started on the front row. Where did he go? Backwards. The No. 16 team of Greg Biffle had a pretty good night. The No. 17 of Matt Kenseth has struggled all year. Now Saturday night they had a pretty decent night, but that’s all, just decent. The No. 6 car of David Ragan has shown some life these last few weeks. There is some possible forward motion with the crew chief change on that car, but they aren’t even in the Chase.
I know everybody wants the Chase to be close and tight. They want more people than ever to have a chance to take home the crown. It always starts out that way. I have said this and said this and yes, I am going to say it again — you start with 12 cars and then after three or four races you are down to eight. Then after three or four more races you are down to only three teams. When we get to Homestead, it is always just down to two teams with a shot at the championship.
I can see it being either Jimmie holding off Denny or Denny holding off Jimmie. Maybe it will be Kevin Harvick holding off Jimmie and Denny. That’s how the 2010 Chase is going to end. Try as we might, that’s just how it’s going to be.
I still maintain that we have to have elimination inside the Chase. I say once you are 150 points behind the leader, then you are eliminated and no longer a Chase contender. Getting locked into the top 12 and you can’t get knocked out needs to change. I always say the most exciting race of the year is race No. 26 at Richmond, because the field is set for the Chase.
Unfortunately as soon as the Chase starts, it is back to business as usual. The guys in the top 12 are locked in and never have to worry. We need to work on that a little bit. We need to add drama back into this thing. So let’s start eliminating guys from the Chase. We’ll come down to two or three guys fighting for the championship. So I say set a number and when you fall that many points behind the leader, you are out. That’s as simple as I know to make it.
So we head to Martinsville Speedway this weekend. I truly love that joint. I know there are two guys who are really excited to be there this weekend – Jimmie and Denny. They are two of the best short-track racers in the business. They are really good at Martinsville, so I am really looking forward to a duel between those two.
Kevin Harvick probably isn’t as excited as those two. The Richard Childress Racing cars, for whatever reason, don’t always run that well at Martinsville. There’s a lot of moving parts that have to work all day long there – motors, brakes and gears are at the top of the list. There’s a lot of stress and strain on the engines and cars on that little half-mile track.
Denny and Jimmie are two of the best. This may be the weekend where Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart can get back into the Chase. They run awfully well there as well. I love Martinsville and I especially loved winning those grandfather clocks. I love hearing them chime in the hallway, bedroom and dining room. I love those Martinsville clocks.
Oh by the way
My sincere condolences to the Jeff Byrd family. Jeff and his wife, Claudia, have been friends of Stevie and me ever since the RJ Reynolds days. Jeff was one of the nicest and kindest men you will have ever met. What he did in bringing Bristol Motor Speedway along and developing it was just phenomenal.
Jeff truly loved the race fans and he absolutely loved Bristol Motor Speedway. He will be sorely missed by everyone in the NASCAR world. He was genuinely a good man and a godly man. Stevie and I send our heartfelt condolences to Jeff’s wife, Claudia, and the family.