McMurray posts first Top-5 in almost two years

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In Jamie McMurray’s mind, pace hasn’t been the problem for his No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team, but rather, the final moments of races.

But on Sunday, that wasn’t a problem for the former Daytona 500 winner, who collected a runner-up finish behind winner Matt Kenseth at Kentucky – his first Top-5 result since finishing fifth in the 2011 night race at Bristol.

“The team has had a lot of fifth to tenth‑place cars, but since Richmond, it has been a disaster, and it’s not performance‑wise,” said McMurray after just his third Top-10 finish of the 2013 season. “We’ve been really quick. Had really good cars. It’s just the last ten percent of the race, something has happened each week.

“Michigan, blew a tire; Dover, something fell off a car and went through our radiator; Charlotte, the radiator broke; last weekend [at Sonoma], had a flat tire with, I don’t know, 30 laps to go or whatever. It’s just every week, it’s been something. So it’s nice to have some good luck.”

McMurray also moved into the Top 20 of the Sprint Cup standings (he’s now 19th), and while he’ll still have to win a race in order to put himself in legitimate contention for one of the two wild card spots in the Chase, Sunday showed that isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

As for whether or not he could’ve caught Kenseth – he had whittled the gap down to under a second at the checkered flag – McMurray believed that the supposed advantage of clean air for Kenseth wasn’t as big as some may have thought.

“The truth is that the tires were worth something,” said McMurray. “[Kenseth] was probably the second‑best car all day. It was just the right amount of laps left at the end. But at the end ‑‑ I ran with him for a good part of the day and I felt like there was times I was a little bit better than him and times he was a little bit better than me. But with no tires those last ten laps, he was quite a bit slower than what we were.

“I think tires were important; it was just the right amount of time at the end.”

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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