Today at Sonoma Raceway, Jamie McMurray threatened to become the 11th different winner in this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup campaign before finishing fourth after starting on pole.
McMurray was pressuring eventual winner Carl Edwards for the lead when a caution came out with 20 laps to go after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun following contact with Brian Vickers.
But that meant McMurray still had an opportunity to pass Edwards on the subsequent restart with 16 laps left. Unfortunately for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver, he made a mistake after the green came back out.
“I’m happy that I’m mad that I finished fourth, if that makes any sense,” he said afterwards. “I thought I had a chance to win but when the last caution came out I was working Carl there a little bit, and I was just waiting on him to make a mistake. I felt like I was better than he was.
“And when we went back green, after the caution, I just used up too much car in [Turns] 1 and 2 and spun the tires really bad and paid the penalty for that the remainder of the run.”
Eventually, Jeff Gordon got by McMurray for second position with nine laps to go and Dale Earnhardt Jr. peeled third away from him a short time later.
At that point, McMurray appeared to know that his ebbing chances of victory had gone away entirely.
“I could see how fast [Earnhardt] was catching me and I came on the radio and I’m like, ‘Is he on a different strategy than we are?’ And [the team] was like, ‘Yeah,'” McMurray said.
“So, when he caught me, I didn’t really put up a fight because I knew that he was going to get by. I was more worried about the No. 27 [Paul Menard]. He was another ten seconds back, if he was going to be able to catch me at the end.”
Menard could not do so, leaving McMurray with his final result. The fourth-place finish is his second Top-5 and third Top-10 in the last five races, and he hasn’t finished worse than 13th in that stretch.
McMurray and the No. 1 CGR crew are beginning to pick it up as they seek to get into proper Chase contention.
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.