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.