NASCAR: Jamie McMurray misses out on Bristol win, chance to make Chase

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Chip Ganassi Racing veteran Jamie McMurray has to win a regular season race in order to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Last night at Bristol Motor Speedway, he almost pulled it off.

But as we know with this new Chase format, almost doesn’t count.

McMurray was leading the Irwin Tools Night Race at the time of a debris caution with 70 laps remaining. He took the opportunity to make his final stop and was the first of the leaders to pit.

But a group of four drivers – Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kyle Larson, and Paul Menard – chose to stay out. That put McMurray fifth on the subsequent restart, and instead of going forward, he went backward as his No. 1 Chevrolet suffered ill-timed handling issues.

He ultimately finished eighth.

“I don’t know what happened,” said McMurray, who is still in “win or bust” mode at 60 points behind 16th on the Chase Grid with two regular season races left.

“Our car got really tight with about 100 laps to go. We freed it up on the last pit stop and it didn’t really help.”

It’s a tough result for McMurray after he was as strong as he was during the second half of last night’s 500-lap race.

As the night went on, he began to think that he and the No. 1 team were capable of taking home the trophy.

“I thought tonight would be a good night to be able to win,” he said. “As we were running around there, I thought we had a legitimate chance to win tonight if we did everything right.

“It’s not like we did anything wrong. It’s just that as the track rubbered up more and more, it just didn’t suit our car as much as it did for the other guys.

“In the middle of the race when I was lapping all these guys, I couldn’t figure out why they were slowing down so much. And then I was kind of in the same situation.”

Now McMurray must push even harder to get a win either at Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend or in the regular season finale two weeks from now at Richmond International Raceway.

Those two tracks have not been all that great to him recently. He hasn’t finished better than seventh at Atlanta since 2008, and has only one Top-5 finish in his last 10 Richmond starts; this past April, he finished 13th there.

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.

Results are below. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama rolls off at 3:00 p.m. ET.