UPDATED: Great pit stop and explosive restart propel Jamie McMurray to Sprint All-Star Race win

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Jamie McMurray took off like a rocket ship at the start of the final 10-lap segment and pulled away to a roughly 10 car-length lead to win the 30th Sprint All-Star Race and its $1 million prize at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

After taking four tires on the final pit stop following the fourth segment, McMurray had an outstanding restart in the 10-lap sprint, banging fenders several times with pole-sitter Carl Edwards, and then pulled away as if his Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth were standing still.

It was McMurray’s first win in the All-Star race, as well as team owner Chip Ganassi. The 20th winner of the All-Star race in its 30-year history, McMurray is now guaranteed a berth in the next 10 All-Star events.

“Awesome job by our pit crew at the end,” McMurray said. “I can’t believe I’m here. This is unbelievable now. … For me and the car, that was as much fun as you can have side-by-side in a 10-lap sprint.”

McMurray’s rookie crew chief Keith Rodden, who took over after last season, plotted outstanding pit strategy.

After bringing his driver in to change tires during a caution on Lap 25, Rodden kept McMurray on the track without changing tires until after the fourth segment.

That was in stark contrast to most other drivers like Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne, who changed tires after every 20-lap segment.

“Keith did an unbelievable job,” McMurray said. “He was a big secret in the garage and I’m glad I have the opportunity to work with him.”

Added Rodden, “We just did an unbelievable job that last stop, going back out there. Those 10 laps, it was like 10 perfect laps, man. I wouldn’t want anybody else driving our cars. This is awesome.”

Although it was a non-points race, it was the third time McMurray has visited a Sprint Cup victory lane at Charlotte. He won his first career race there back in fall 2002, substituting for the injured Sterling Marlin. He also won the fall 2010 race there, as well.

To his credit, Harvick made a race of it, but ran out of time, finishing .7 of a second behind McMurray.

However, Harvick may have ruffled some feathers with his team, blaming his pit crew for coming up short.

“We recovered from the first bad pit stop on pit road and then we didn’t recover from the second bad pit stop on pit road,” Harvick said. “We just didn’t get it done on pit road.”

Matt Kenseth finished third, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and pole-sitter Carl Edwards.

“I’m really happy for Jamie,” Kenseth said. “If we couldn’t win, it’s always nice to see good guys win.”

Added Earnhardt, “I’m happy for Jamie, it’s a pretty cool deal for him. They’ve been needing something like that the last several years. I’m confident we’ll come back next week and do it.”

Edwards also gave credit to McMurray for getting the best of him on the final restart and then pulling away to the win.

“Jamie just did a perfect job on the restart,” Edwards said. “He ended up sweeping around me and dragging me down and it was a drag race.

“My hat is off to him. He did a great job, he earned it, I drove as hard as I could while he’s on the outside and he gave just enough room not to wreck me but still enough to beat me.”

Sixth through 10th were Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.

The remaining five drivers still running on the end and finishing11th through 15th were Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, David Ragan, Kasey Kahne and Josh Wise.

Seven drivers failed to finish due to wrecks: Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.

Kyle Busch won the first 20-lap segment, while Kahne led following the second and third segments, and then Harvick led after the fourth segment.

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NHRA: Antron Brown on verge of earning 50th career Top Fuel win this weekend at Phoenix

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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When you’re used to winning championships – like three in the previous five seasons – any other season finish is disappointing.

That’s kind of how NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Antron Brown looked at his fourth-place showing in the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season last year and made it to 10 final rounds,” Brown said. “But we got into the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoffs) and our timing was off.

“We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better. This is a new beginning for us and it’s going to be fun and exciting and we’re coming after them.”

Antron Brown hugs the NHRA Top Fuel championship trophy after winning it in 2016. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Brown had a good start to 2018, reaching the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“We had a great performance at Pomona and I couldn’t be more proud of what our Matco/Toyota guys did,” Brown said. “Now we are going to Phoenix where we’ve won three times (2009, 2012 and 2014, and was runner-up in 2011) and we’ll just try to hit it hard and get a fourth.”

Next up on the NHRA 24-race national event circuit is the second race of the season, this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix (Chandler, Arizona).

Brown has definite plans to make it four wins in Phoenix. And if he does that Sunday, he’ll set a significant career milestone: it would be his 50th career win driving a Top Fueler and the 66th win overall (he won 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle before shifting from two to four wheels).

In so doing, Brown would become only the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to hit the 50-win mark. The others are Tony Schumacher (83), Larry Dixon (62) and Joe Amato (52).

This will be the second time Brown has been racing in Phoenix this month. He was part of the preseason test there for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock cars a week before the season began.

“Testing went really well there,” said Brown, leaving him optimistic that he can reach victory circle once again. “I love going back to Phoenix.”

Brown has been the most dominant driver in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 2012, winning more than twice the number of races (34) than the next most successful Top Fuel driver (16 by Schumacher) in that time period.

He also has a 71 percent overall win percentage, which exceeds both eight-time Top Fuel champ Schumacher and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

“I’m just pumped up, feeling like we’ve got some unfinished business from last year,” Brown said. “We had a good outing but didn’t close the deal, so this year, we’re looking forward to getting back there and getting off to a great start.”

NOTES: Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 4th Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by teammates Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett in a weekend full of activities that they’ll all be involved in.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry pace car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way. Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Brown has won four times at The Strip, the drag strip adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out there with such talented drivers, and I know I’m going to really enjoy watching our NASCAR counterparts.”

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