Jamie McMurray wins under caution at Talladega (VIDEO)

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With traditional plate racing stalwart Dale Earnhardt Jr. running second to Jamie McMurray on the final lap of today’s Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, it appeared everything was set for a thrilling finish.

But instead, McMurray won under caution after Austin Dillon, running third, snapped loose in front of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in Turn 2 and then spun into the oncoming car of Casey Mears, who hit and sent the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship leader into the air briefly before he came back down right-side up.

Dillon would keep his car rolling back to the garage, and the incident ensured that McMurray would score his first Sprint Cup victory since the 2010 fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He led the final 16 laps in a race that was remarkably clean by Talladega standards and came off without the dreaded “Big One.”

“I felt like I was pretty patient all day, and I saw the 17 [Stenhouse] and 88 [Earnhardt] coming on the top, and it just seemed like the top was the best place to get hung out rather than be hung out on the bottom,” McMurray explained to ESPN. “Fortunately, I was able to get myself into position.

“I don’t know how the last lap would’ve played out. I could see the 88 trying to set me up, trying to figure out where he could get a run on me. But when I saw the caution come out behind me – I honestly wanted it to end under green, but at the same time, [I was like], ‘Throw a caution and I’m OK with it right now.'”

He would get his caution, which robbed Earnhardt of the chance to make one final assault for victory at the track where he’s triumphed five times in his career – but not since the fall of 2004.

“We were kind of forming our run around the middle of [Turns] 1 and 2, and I think we had a really good head of steam coming off of 2,” Earnhardt said. “Then they got together behind us and that was that. I was gonna try something down the back straightaway but I never got the chance.”

Meanwhile, the two main Chase contenders, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, were unable to have a say in the outcome. Johnson led a race-high 47 laps but finished 13th, while handling problems forced Kenseth to swallow a 20th-place result – and also caused him to lose the points lead, which Johnson now holds by a margin of four points going into next weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

Stenhouse posted a strong third place result, with Paul Menard also having a good run to fourth. Kyle Busch rounded out the Top 5 after falling to the rear of the field when he was unable to get to his pit box during an early stop and had to come back a second time for service.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”