Will Jamie McMurray be a ‘Dega dark horse once again?

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Perhaps the biggest subplot outside everything that’s happening in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup has been the strength of Chip Ganassi Racing.

In particular, CGR rookie phenom Kyle Larson has been stellar this post-season with finishes of third, second, sixth, second, and sixth in the first five Chase races.

But his veteran counterpart, Jamie McMurray, has been solid as well. The Missouri native opened up the Chase with runs of ninth (Chicagoland) and fourth (New Hampshire).

He then finished 22nd at Dover due to handling woes, but he looked to have a Top-5 run in the bag at Kansas before he suffered a cut tire with less than 10 laps to go that relegated him to 25th. Last week at Charlotte, McMurray avoided such bad luck and posted his best finish of the season in third place.

Now, Big Mac will seek to keep up his momentum this weekend at Talladega, where he won under caution last fall (and in Auburn colors, no less).

To him, the key will be doing all he can to stay up front with the leaders. While he’s fully aware that there’s no bulletproof strategy to surviving 500 miles at Talladega, he says that it’s much harder these days to work through the packs in order to be in position for a late-race charge to the lead.

“I remember years ago riding in the back and saying with 50 laps to go, or whatever number we picked out, we’ll go to the front,” McMurray mused yesterday. “It seemed at the time you could do that, but now you can’t because we get three-wide, and we run three wide for most of the fuel run.

“It will single-file out, or maybe it is a double-wide at some point. [But] most of the run is three-wide, and you make your move like most places on a restart and you hope you can get in the row that is moving to the front, whether that is making it the third row, wherever it is…inside, middle outside. It’s hard to pass after that.

“It is hard to go four-wide. People don’t want to go with you when you get past three.”

Even with that issue, it’s not far-fetched to think of McMurray as a dark horse this weekend.

Save for Dover, he’s been relatively quick this Chase. And as we’ve written before, he has a penchant for stealing wins from those in the running for a championship.

His ‘Dega triumph one year ago marked his third victory in a Chase race. The first such win came at ‘Dega in 2009 for Roush Fenway Racing, and in 2010, he got his second one for CGR at Charlotte.