NASCAR: Menard, McMurray end seasons with top-fives

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Perhaps the unfortunate part of the last race of the season is that if you’re a driver who has a great race or great finish but isn’t in either win or championship contention, you get overlooked.

Witness Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray, who finished fourth and fifth to round out the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and finish the day the best two drivers who didn’t qualify for the Chase this year.

Menard qualified 16th but started from the rear of the field after being penalized for unapproved pre-race adjustments. But Menard was quickly into the top 25 by Lap 12, and methodically worked further forward the rest of the day despite having a cut rear tire. Menard’s fourth-place finish marked his fifth top-five and 13th top-10 finish of the season, both record highs, en route to a 21st-place finish in points in the No. 27 Richard Childress Racing entry.

“I’m proud of my guys and how hard they worked today to get us that fourth-place finish,” Menard said, via the team. “This year was good for us. We’ve made big gains and learned a lot. I’m looking forward to next year and what we can do as a team.”

McMurray started 19th and banked his seventh top-five finish of the year after another consistent run. He finished 18th in the points standings, one spot behind Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and 2014 top rookie Kyle Larson, but both drivers were better than their final standings would indicate. McMurray’s crew, led by crew chief Keith Rodden, brought the No. 1 team’s performance forward all season.

“We really struggled with the set up on our car tonight,” McMurray said, via the team. “Keith and all the guys did a great job making adjustments throughout the race and not giving up.  We took a gamble on a two tire stop in the closing laps and it worked out great for us.  The car really came to life and we were able to pull off a top-five finish to end our season.  I really want to thank all the guys on this team for everything this season and most importantly a huge thanks to all of our partners who have supported us throughout the year.”