18 October 2014
NASCAR Sprint Cup Taladega: McMurray looking for repeat success
If there's anyone who should have a good idea on how to win this weekend's GEICO 500 at Talladega, it's last year's race winner Jamie McMurray.
Even before the Sprint Cup Series Chase format was changed, at the start of 2014, the year's annual autumn visit to Talladega Superspeedway has always struck fear into the hearts of those still in the running for the championship title because of its unpredictability and the high likelihood of getting caught up and taken out by someone else's accident.
Survival is the key strategy, and Chip Ganassi Racing's Jamie McMurray has already shown that he can make Talladega's unique nature work for him, as he won this race 12 months ago in 2013. So does he have a secret to ensuring success again here this week?
"Absolutely not," he admitted. "I've rode in the back, and won a race here before. I've also rode in the back and been crashed. So, I think the best way to go about it is to just race all day long.
"I was in the back here in the spring race, and they had a two-car wreck and I ended up going through the grass and got the front of my car ripped off trying to be safe. I think the best plan is to race all day long and try to stay up front."
Many drivers try to hang back so if there's trouble in the midfield pack they don't get caught up in the aftermath, but McMurray pointed out that this wasn't always the best strategy.
"Every plate race it gets harder and harder to go from the back to the front," McMurray said. 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. 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. 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.
"Every plate race gets harder," he reiterated. "I think some of that comes from everybody getting smarter about plate racing. Maybe being more patient. You used to just love the guys that were impatient because they always make the more and no one would go with them and that would make your row go forward. You just don't have that as much as you used to.
"The downside to riding in the back is first off you don't get to work with anybody and see who you think is going to want to work with you. You develop these relationships throughout the race, with someone you've drafted with in the past, or it might be somebody completely new. You kind of make friends as the day goes along, and I think it is good to develop those, and to race all day long so when it comes down to the end, you know who is going to stick with you."
Talking of making friends out on track, McMurray didn't think that last week's post-race brawl involving Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin was going to spill over into retribution attempts on Sunday.
"It is going to be really hard to hang anyone out here intentionally," he insisted. "Typically when someone gets hung out here it is because they have made a bad decision, and you don't want to go with them so they end up getting hung out.
At least having a past win at Talladega helps settle the nerves. Not being in contention for the championship is also a big load off a driver's shoulders, so perhaps the biggest advantage McMurray has is simply being able to relax and just think about stealing an out-and-out win without having to worry about points and titles.
"Talladega is one of the more laid-back weekends for all of us, it's typically one practice to see if the car feels good," was McMurray's surprising verdict on the weekend. "Then it is pretty laid back for the rest of the weekend until the race starts. So, it is one of the calmer weekends we get to have.
"I think that when you look at even the start of the race [then] it's pretty laid back because you have 400-450 miles of not as intense racing has what you have in the last 50 laps, or last 100 miles. I don't think you can get all worked up now, or even in the first half of the race because it means nothing. So for the most part it is about not getting torn up and just being there for realistically the 50-75 laps."
But when you get down to those last 50 laps, better hold on tight. It could be a very bumpy ride for some very big names - and maybe McMurray will once again dance through the chaos and be the first car to the line again.
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