(Photo: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

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

Leave a comment

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.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti
Leave a comment

MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the Verizon IndyCar Series field in 2015 with Marco Andretti, who finished ninth after another top-10 season in points.

Marco Andretti, No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 5th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 23 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 12.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 3rd, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 60 Laps Led, 11.5 Avg. Start, 9.1 Avg. Finish

It was a dependable, quiet but usually consistent season from Marco Andretti, who up until the final quarter of the season had actually been his father’s most reliable finisher.

Andretti didn’t necessarily have a ton of standout drives but he was usually there or thereabouts, and by the end of the day he was often at the low ends of the top-10, which earlier this year given the at-times troublesome Honda aero kit package on road and street courses was more of an accomplishment than you’d think. Three top-10 results in the first four races was proof positive of that.

As ever Andretti excelled most on the big ovals. Sixth at the Indianapolis 500 was as good as was possible given the lack of top-end speed; similarly, he probably could have emerged at the head of the field at Fontana, ending third when all was said and done.

His best result was second in the rain at Detroit race one, although coming second to teammate Carlos Munoz had to sting a little bit. Andretti had driven well that race, and was unfortunate not to be rewarded with his first win in four years.

The thing that would have been his standout stat of the year, finishing every lap, game unglued with an odd accident on home soil in Pocono. It was a shame to see because Andretti was typically good, if not great, for yet another season.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
Leave a comment

MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.