In Jamie McMurray’s mind, pace hasn’t been the problem for his No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team, but rather, the final moments of races.
But on Sunday, that wasn’t a problem for the former Daytona 500 winner, who collected a runner-up finish behind winner Matt Kenseth at Kentucky – his first Top-5 result since finishing fifth in the 2011 night race at Bristol.
“The team has had a lot of fifth to tenth‑place cars, but since Richmond, it has been a disaster, and it’s not performance‑wise,” said McMurray after just his third Top-10 finish of the 2013 season. “We’ve been really quick. Had really good cars. It’s just the last ten percent of the race, something has happened each week.
“Michigan, blew a tire; Dover, something fell off a car and went through our radiator; Charlotte, the radiator broke; last weekend [at Sonoma], had a flat tire with, I don’t know, 30 laps to go or whatever. It’s just every week, it’s been something. So it’s nice to have some good luck.”
McMurray also moved into the Top 20 of the Sprint Cup standings (he’s now 19th), and while he’ll still have to win a race in order to put himself in legitimate contention for one of the two wild card spots in the Chase, Sunday showed that isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
As for whether or not he could’ve caught Kenseth – he had whittled the gap down to under a second at the checkered flag – McMurray believed that the supposed advantage of clean air for Kenseth wasn’t as big as some may have thought.
“The truth is that the tires were worth something,” said McMurray. “[Kenseth] was probably the second‑best car all day. It was just the right amount of laps left at the end. But at the end ‑‑ I ran with him for a good part of the day and I felt like there was times I was a little bit better than him and times he was a little bit better than me. But with no tires those last ten laps, he was quite a bit slower than what we were.
“I think tires were important; it was just the right amount of time at the end.”