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.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski