Jamie McMurray, who won today at Talladega Superspeedway, is not among those racing for the championship in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. But in a race that was labeled going in as the most critical event for those in post-season contention, McMurray and a group of non-Chase drivers stood up and mixed it up toward the front.
When the checkered flag fell in the Camping World RV Sales 500, six of the Top 10 finishers were not Chasers – McMurray, third-place Ricky Stenhouse Jr., fourth-place Paul Menard, sixth-place David Ragan (the winner this past May at ‘Dega), seventh-place David Gilliland, and eighth-place Martin Truex, Jr.
For rookie driver Stenhouse, today’s race marked the best result so far in his Sprint Cup career and continued what has been a noticeable improvement recently in his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing team’s competitiveness.
“We struggled throughout the first half of the season, definitely more than I thought we should or definitely more than we wanted to,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot. I think we’re getting better as a team, and I’m learning a little bit more about what we need to do from practice to the race to make our car still fast throughout the race. It’s been fun the last month or so, and we just need to keep it going.”
Menard was right behind Stenhouse in the final laps after running toward the Top 10 for much of the race. He was hoping a bottom line would eventually materialize to challenge the single-file pack of leaders on the high groove, but it never came through.
“My plan was to wait for somebody else to go to the bottom first and keeping track of where the 20 [Matt Kenseth], the 22 [Joey Logano] and those guys were, and I’d try to pull in front of them when they got to me,” Menard said about his plan.
“I wasn’t going to be the first guy to do that because I’ve done that before and been shuffled out pretty quick. I was going to wait for somebody else to make the move first and try to piggy-back on.”
The Front Row Motorsports duo of Ragan and Gilliland, who finished first and second respectively at ‘Dega in the spring, weren’t quite able to duplicate their feat this afternoon. But a pair of Top-10s were still good results for the tandem, which will be returning to FRM next season.
Finally, Truex – who has been the subject of recent reports that link him to Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 machine for next season – was able to pick up his second Top-10 finish in the last five races.