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.”

Usain Bolt, Bill Clinton among headline guests for USGP at COTA

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The Circuit of The Americas paddock ahead of the United States Grand Prix may have been busy with teams and drivers preparing for lights out, but much of the attention lay with a number of headline guests including former presidents and Olympic champions.

As part of its plans to up the excitement levels ahead of Sunday’s grand prix and mirror other sporting events, F1’s new owner, Liberty Media, announced plans a couple of weeks ago to link up with iconic boxing announcer Michael Buffer and eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt for the pre-race festivities.

Ahead of today’s race in Austin, Buffer will introduce the drivers in a number of groups before offering the call for drivers to start their engines, similar to the pre-race procedure for the Indianapolis 500.

Honorary race starter Bolt, who competed in his last athletic world championship event in London earlier this year, will appear on the start line to complete his signature victory pose before waving the green flags to launch the formation lap.

Bolt was also treated to a hot lap around COTA by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton before the start of the formal pre-race build up program in Austin.

Liberty issued a list of celebrities and other public figures who are confirmed to be attending today’s race, including Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden and actor Owen Wilson among others.

One name that wasn’t on the list? 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who quickly became a focus for the paddock upon arrival three hours before lights out.

The United States Grand Prix is live on NBC and NBC Sports app from 2pm ET today.