‘Dega winner McMurray leads wave of non-Chase drivers

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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.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.