McMurray continues to gain strength

Jamie McMurray swept the pole positions at Auto Club Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, taking his second top spot at the track with a lap of 185.285 mph on Friday.

After finishing his radio obligations, he sat down in the media center and asked,” So, are you going to put me in your top 12 next year?”

If FOXSports.com did a poll before next season, that would be affirmative.

When this year started, the shrewdest pundit could not have predicted that McMurray would win four poles in the first 30 races – one more than he’d acquired in his nine-year Sprint Cup career – or won the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 in his first year with a new team.

But at 34, McMurray has blossomed into one of the top drivers on the Sprint Cup tour and certainly one of the most affable. While some drivers are trudging along simply waiting for the year to end, McMurray continues to build his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team with an eye on the future.

“For our team, we’re doing a really good job at doing what we couldn’t do at the beginning of the year – being consistent,” McMurray said. “We were not very consistent at the beginning of the season and I looked back to all the races since Chicago and we’ve been consistent. The days that we don’t have cars capable of running in the top five, we finish where we raced most of the day, or a little bit better.

“If we could have done that the first 26 races, we were fast enough to make the Chase. It’s very frustrating that we’re not in the Chase right now because we’ve run really well in all three of the Chase races, but it is what it is. We’re just getting our cars ready for next year and where they need to be.”

McMurray has watched his performance pick up at the majority of tracks when the tour returns for a second season visit. In the second half of the season, the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops team has posted four top-fives and six top-10 finishes. His average finish has been 11.5. McMurray is currently 14th in the points standings. He trails 13th-place Ryan Newman by 22 points.

“The key for us is to get better when we go back to the tracks for a second time and I feel like we’ve done that,” McMurray said. “Pocono is the exception to that – and we didn’t get better there. But I’ve been going there since 2002 and it hasn’t gotten better for me since. So I kind of know what the common denominator is there. For the most part, at all the other tracks, if we ran well the first race we ran really good the second and if we ran poorly, we ran OK. We just have to keep building momentum.”

And has McMurray signed his new contract yet?

“No,” he concludes with a smile. “But we’re close.”

Numbers game

Carl Edwards was surprised when he discovered the fall race had been shortened from 500 to 400 miles this year. Edwards, who follows a strict conditioning program, felt he held an advantage with the longer distance over his competitors.

“Oh, so this is a 400-mile race? I thought it was a 500-mile race all weekend,” Edwards said. “Man, I’m glad we covered that. That’s gonna go quick. The thing is it’s gonna be hot and starting at noon, a 400-mile race here should be over at about 3 o’clock or 3:30 at the latest.

“It’s such a fast race track, so that will change things a little bit. I was really looking forward to the 500 miles. I like the grueling aspect of this racetrack and that long distance race, but I think for the fans things are gonna shake out. The fastest car will probably be leading by the 400th mile, so if that makes it a more exciting race, then that’s good.”

Edwards won the spring California race in 2008. His average finish of 7.2 is second only to Jimmie Johnson. Edwards has led 121 laps and completed 99.9-percent of all circuits raced.