Kyle Larson, left, and Jamie McMurray, right. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Jamie McMurray having a much different season than he’s used to on and off the track in 2014

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A bit of friendly advice: don’t make the mistake of calling Jamie McMurray “old.”

On the one hand, while McMurray still looks young enough to be carded at a bar, appearing to maybe be in his mid-20s, the fact is he turned 38 in June.

But on the other hand, his age has definitely come into play more so this season than in any other of his prior 11 full-time seasons in the Sprint Cup Series.

With series veteran Juan Pablo Montoya leaving NASCAR to return to IndyCar prior to this season, McMurray went from the younger guy on the two-car Chip Ganassi Racing team to the aging veteran himself.

What’s more, he’s now teamed with 21-year-old Kyle Larson, making McMurray both a teammate and something he’s never really been before in his career, namely, a mentor.

“I’ve always had to be the younger guy,” McMurray joked during a test session Tuesday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. “I joked around at dinner last night that Kyle’s young enough to legitimately be my son. It wouldn’t even be weird if I said I had an 18-year-old son.

“And Keith (Rodden), my crew chief, is younger (33) than me. I don’t know if it’s tough or hard, but that’s a transition in life, when you’re all of a sudden not the youngest one around, right? But Kyle’s a real good teammate and I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent with him.”

While not casting any negative comments or aspersions at former teammate Montoya, McMurray said he and Larson have bonded quickly.

“Kyle is pretty easy to talk to,” McMurray said. “It’s so hard to compare people without building one up or knocking the other one down. But Kyle and I definitely talk more than what Juan and I did.

“He’s new and fresh and doesn’t have any bad habits yet, so it’s kind of fun to look at his races or engine data or listen to Kyle talk. I think he’s perceived as this extremely quiet individual, but is actually pretty funny and does talk a lot if you ask him questions. He’s refreshing is probably the word just because he’s new and doesn’t know right from wrong yet. I’ve really enjoyed my time with him.”

With two races remaining to make this year’s expanded 16-driver field for the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup, McMurray knows he needs a win at either Atlanta this Saturday or the final Chase qualifying race on Sept. 6 at Richmond.

“Everyone’s plan every week is to win,” McMurray said. “The media makes it that they have to win one of the next two to get into the Chase. Everybody gambles and takes risks every single week, so I don’t know if that plays out any differently.”

But the fact is McMurray won’t make the Chase unless he wins one of the next two races. And while he’s not giving up on those hopes, he’s also cognizant that even if he falls short, he can still end the season with a flourish even as a non-Chase contender.

“I think that it’s going to be a little bit different this year because there’s going to be 16 guys involved,” McMurray said. “If you make the Chase and you finish 16th in points, I don’t know if that’s that stellar of a year. I think there could be a guy that doesn’t make the Chase and could win two or three races in the Chase, finishes 17th in the points, and I’m going to say he had a lot better year.

“I don’t know if you can base your year just on making or not making (the Chase), because ultimately every week is about winning. There might be somebody that makes the Chase that never wins a race. I don’t know if that guy at the end of the year is going to sit down and say, ‘Wow, we just really killed it this year.’

“It’s not make-or-break. Getting to win the All-Star Race (back in May) was awesome for us. Certainly, if we could have won last weekend (at Bristol, where he led a race-high 148 laps and finished eighth), it would have been special and then you’re in the Chase. Then you look at your year and say, ‘We’ve won a couple times and we made the Chase.’ But really, I hate that there’s so much emphasis put on just making the Chase, because if you just make it and you don’t run well, I don’t really see where that’s all that great.

“To just make the Chase and not win a race really isn’t what you’re looking for. If you don’t make it but you could win three races in the last 10, I think everyone would take that over just making the Chase, especially now that there’s 16 guys in it. It’s not quite as special as it was when there were just 10 in it.”

While McMurray is 16th in the conventional Sprint Cup standings, there are five drivers behind him in the standings who will vault into the Chase because they all have one win thus far this season: Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola.

While he’s managed two top-fives and five other top-10s, things have been a struggle for McMurray in 2014 – although he considers this a better season for him performance-wise than 2010, when he won three major races (including the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400), only to miss the Chase and finish 14th for the entire season.

“We have run, I think, probably better than we ran in 2010 when we won a few big races,” McMurray said. “In 2010, we ran really well or we ran horrible. There was no in-between. This year, our horrible’s have been 14th when we were to finish if we didn’t blow a tire or have something to happen.

“And then our good runs, we well really run at Charlotte, won the All-Star Race, ran real well last weekend. We’ve run really well at a lot of different racetracks and performance-wise, it’s probably been the best year of my career.”

But it would be that much better if he wins this Sunday or next Saturday.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Dixon fast once again as times keep falling in Mid-Ohio third practice

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Scott Dixon being fast at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is not new.

But Scott Dixon dropping a lap of 1:03.7244 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is new.

Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and leader of first practice, lowered the mark to that aforementioned time in this morning’s 45-minute third practice session for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200.

And mind you, this time is done on Firestone’s primary black sidewall tires on a track that grips up and gets faster as a session goes on.

Dixon’s official track record is 1:04.5814, set last year in qualifying. But if it’s dry (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN), and the Firestone red alternates come out to play, there’s not just a chance that track record will be beat – it could be obliterated.

In the non-Dixon class, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan all also made it into the 1:03 bracket. Max Chilton was an impressive sixth.

Top Honda in this practice was Graham Rahal, as he was on Friday. Except that position is seventh.

The one red flag flew when Spencer Pigot ran in deep at Turn 4 and beached his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, but the Ed Carpenter Racing driver resumed and returned to the pits with no damage.

Times are below.

MidOFP3

Sainz handed Germany grid drop for blocking Massa

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 30: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR11 Ferrari 060/5 turbo on track  during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 30, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Carlos Sainz Jr. has been given a three-place grid penalty for the German Grand Prix after blocking Felipe Massa during Q2 on Saturday at Hockenheim.

Sainz qualified 13th for Toro Rosso, finishing three-tenths of a second off Massa who was the final driver to make it through to Q3 for Williams.

However, Massa was forced to abandon one of his flying laps during Q2 after coming across a slow-moving Sainz at Turn 2.

Sainz tried to get out of the way late on, taking to the grass at the inside of Turn 2, but the damage had been done.

Massa complained to Williams over the radio before race control confirmed it would be investigating the matter after the session.

The FIA stewards in Germany confirmed soon after qualifying that Sainz would drop three places on the grid for Sunday’s race, leaving him 16th for Toro Rosso.

Sainz also received two penalty points on his FIA super licence for the incident, taking him up to four for the 12-month period.

Sainz will still be the highest-starting Toro Rosso in Germany after teammate Daniil Kvyat could only qualify 19th. The Russian will rise to 18th on the grid by virtue of Romain Grosjean’s gearbox penalty.

The German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Rosberg: Germany pole satisfying after Q3 setback, heavy fuel run

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Nico Rosberg said that scoring pole position for the German Grand Prix was particularly satisfying given his early setback in Q3 after an electrical issue that forced Mercedes to fuel him heavily for his final run.

Rosberg and Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton had exchanged fastest times throughout the week, leading to a showdown for pole in Q3 at Hockenheim.

Rosberg was forced to abandon his first run in Q3 after suffering an electrical issue coming out of Turn 13 that caused his throttle to malfunction.

Mercedes brought Rosberg in and resolved the issue before fuelling him for three laps heading into the final minutes of the session.

Rosberg produced a stunning lap of 1:14.363 to edge out Hamilton, the Briton unable to respond with his final low-fuel qualifying lap.

“It was a great feeling, a great lap,” Rosberg said after qualifying.

“Not only was it just one lap that I had but I also had extra fuel to make sure I had an extra shot if a mistake or something happened, so fuelled for three laps.

“So that’s some more time in the bag there. I was really satisfied with that one, that was cool.”

Rosberg has no concerns about the reliability of his Mercedes W07 Hybrid heading into Sunday’s race despite the electrical issue, and is braced for a close fight with Hamilton and the Red Bull drivers.

“I don’t know what it was. It just suddenly lost the throttle, cut completely the engine,” Rosberg said.

“Just at the end of the lap, so that was disappointing, but I’m sure we’ll fix it for tomorrow.

“It’s never happened before so I’m sure it will be OK.

“Definitely will be an exciting race against Lewis and the Red Bull, and maybe also the Ferraris, but they’re a bit further back it seems.”

The German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Nico Rosberg rallies to German GP pole at Hockenheim

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 30: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 30, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Nico Rosberg bounced back from an electronic issue on his car in qualifying to secure pole position for his home Formula 1 race at Hockenheim in Germany.

Rosberg edged out Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton by one-tenth of a second in Q3 to take pole on home soil for the second time, his first coming two years ago at Hockenheim.

Rosberg and Hamilton were neck-and-neck through their first flying laps in Q3, only for Rosberg to slow in the final sector before pulling into the pits due to an electronic error. Hamilton completed his lap, going six-tenths of a second faster than everyone else to take provisional pole.

With the error resolved, Rosberg emerged from the pits early for his final Q3 run, having the track to himself. The German driver went one-tenth of a second faster than Hamilton to wrestle away provisional pole, piling the pressure on the Briton ahead of his final run.

Hamilton went faster than Rosberg through the first sector, but the rest of the lap fell away from him, meaning he could gain just 0.02 seconds to stay in second place, handing his rival pole.

Daniel Ricciardo qualified third ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, as the two Red Bulls once again defeated Ferrari with relative ease. Kimi Raikkonen finished fifth for the Scuderia, two-tenths clear of Sebastian Vettel in P6.

Nico Hulkenberg led Force India’s charge in P7 ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, with their respective teammates Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa following in P9 and P10.

Haas came close to picking up its first Q3 appearance in F1 as Esteban Gutierrez qualified 11th, having been pushed out of the top 10 after late improvements from Perez and Massa. Teammate Romain Grosjean failed to match Gutierrez for pace, finishing 15th, but will drop to P20 on the grid due to a gearbox penalty.

McLaren was unable to repeat its double-Q3 run from Hungary as Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso qualified 12th and 14th respectively, split by Carlos Sainz Jr. in the lead Toro Rosso in P13. However, Sainz will have to speak to the stewards after appearing to impede Massa’s hot lap during Q2.

Renault enjoyed mixed fortunes as Jolyon Palmer made his way through to Q2, qualifying 16th, but teammate Kevin Magnussen was narrowly edged out in Q1 after a late improvement from Sainz. The Dane eventually finished the session in 17th.

Pascal Wehrlein finished just one-tenth of a second shy of a Q2 berth in P18, with Manor teammate Rio Haryanto two places further back. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat split the pair, enduring another tough session by qualifying 19th. Sauber drivers Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson locked out the back row of the grid, half a second adrift from Q2.