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NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR Looking Good For 70, But Continued Improvement Important

Growing up, Kasey Kahne can still recall waking up early on Sunday mornings, making breakfast, and then sitting down to watch the NASCAR race that day, dreaming of one day being a racecar driver. 

“I feel like today there have to be kids out there still doing that same type of tying and just wanting to be part of the sport because it’s a great form of auto racing,” he said. “There is so much it offers to so many different people. I love every break that I’ve had in this sport and the opportunities that I’ve had to be part of it for so long. And again this year, it’s the same thing. I have a great opportunity. Yeah, I think NASCAR is awesome, and I’m glad that I’m part of it.”

With history on the mind, but yet having a focus on the future, the 2018 season will mark the 70th year of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing – as it has become known, NASCAR. 

Over the course of time, there have some great historical moments that fans can still recount every detail of until this day, from wins and celebration to fights and controversy. On the flip side, it has not gone all smooth, with backlash and negativity amidst conversation at times. But while some things have come and gone, NASCAR has stuck around through it all.

With the 2018 season on the horizon, there are a lot of positives. The influx of young drivers brings hope for the future, along with tracks showing stability and attendance. The playoffs have also created a lot of discussion and drama, as evident by a crisp afternoon at Martinsville Speedway last October. The sanctioning body’s decisions have shown great strides, including stage racing in 2017.

Although a lot of people were skeptical about the mandated caution and breaking the event into three parts, it grew on fans and drivers alike over the year with the excitement generated, and strategy in hoping to score the additional points. 

Rusty Jarrett NKP

“I kind of like knowing that the caution is coming out in 10 more laps and that there’s going to be a pit stop and that there’s going to be another restart,” Jamie McMurray said. “I enjoy that as a fan. So, I hope people like that on Sunday. I think they’ve done a really good job with the double-file restarts. I think they’ve done a lot to keep somebody in-tuned longer.”

Overall, things are not looking too bad if you take a step back, and realize how fortunate everybody is.

“I think we have made a lot of good changes to the sport,” Kevin Harvick said. “As we create and keep creating a better model for the teams to hopefully achieve some financial stability with the things that they need to get the coast of everything into something that is sustainable, I think that is a good thing. It isn’t as big as it was in 2006, but it is also still really big. You are going to go to the Daytona 500 and still have 100,000 fans in the grandstands, and when they talk about attendance being down, there are still 80,000 people sitting up there.”

Of course, room for improvement is always there.

The television numbers could use some work in being lower than warranted, along with attendance at the tracks as some have cut down seats due to being empty multiple times. Sponsorship and cost have become a big question throughout the sport, as you don’t see a corporate company stepping up as often anymore to sponsor a full schedule, and other teams have been forced to shut their doors.

The schedule could always use some tweaking, as some races could be placed at a different time of year to help all the variables, and some tracks don’t necessarily need to have two dates either. There’s also the theory of possibly shortening some races, as four and a half hours can be too long to ask for someone’s attention with everything people can do nowadays. 

Brett Moist NKP

“I wish there were more people at the race that were involved and intrigued by it and wanted to be part of it,” Kahne said. “I wish we could get back to that for the excitement level, but I still think the racing is very good. It’s super competitive. As a driver, every week I’m thinking how can I get better, how can I help my team, and how can we be more competitive? That’s because of the sport. That brings you back. You want to win. You want to win at this level, and it’s because of the previous 70 years is why you want it so badly. I think there’s a lot of good things about it, but I’d love to see more people in the stands.”

If you want to see the improvement, moving forward though, one change needs to happen at the head of the room. 

“If I could make one change it would be that the leader of the sport (Brian France) is at the race track every weekend. That would be my change,” Brad Keselowski said. “It is important for any company that relies so heavily on outside partners to have a direct interface. This is such a big ship with so much going on week to week.”

To be able to make the best decisions necessary, knowing every single nick and cranny should be a requirement, so you understand how it will affect every level, from the fans and drivers to the teams and marketing partners. Also being there each week, it would allow those financially looking from the outside to understand that you have a hands-on approach, and they can trust you with their dollars. 

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

 

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

McMurray’s Title Hopes All But Over

In a day when most of the 12 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff drivers wound up getting wrecked, the biggest loser of all was Jamie McMurray.

Brad Keselowski survived three red flags for crashes to win Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway and was one of only two playoff drivers to finish in the top 10, the other being Denny Hamlin, who finished sixth.

But in terms of points, while many drivers took it on the chin, the worst blow was to McMurray.

During Stage 1, McMurray tried to make a last-minute dash into the pits when he got hit from behind by Erik Jones and turned into the outside wall. The contact knocked McMurray out of the race and likely the playoffs, too.

“It was my fault,” said McMurray. “…I didn’t even know where the 77  (Jones) was. When I got on the brakes, I thought we were all coming to pit road as a group. I’ll take the blame for that. I just kind of assumed we were coming to pit road right there. Obviously not everyone was.”

“The 1 (McMurray) was basically stopped on the track,” said Jones. “It looked kinda like he was trying to get from the top of the race track down to the bottom. Unfortunately, there was nothing we could really do. It was one of those things that happens here sometimes.”

McMurray finished 37th and is now 12th in points, worst of the 12 remaining playoff drivers. With only one race left in the second round of the NASCAR playoffs, McMurray is 29 points below the cutline and will have to win at Kansas Speedway or be knocked out of the title fight.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Strong Charlotte Performance Puts McMurray in Contention

CONCORD, N.C. – After advancing to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Round of 12 for the first time in his career, Jamie McMurray kicked-off the second round with one of his best performances of the season.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver finished fifth in Sunday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, capturing his third top-five and 16th top-10 of 2017.

By taking advantage of the added grip applied in the upper lanes and seeing an improved performance out of his pit crew, McMurray remained up front throughout the race.

“I was really good in the sticky stuff,” McMurray said. “It seemed like other guys were struggling. Then after that, we were still really good, it was just pretty hard to pass, but our pit crew did awesome today. I know we talked about it going into the playoffs that we felt that was a weakness and today was unbelievable for those guys.”

Had it not been for stellar work on pit road today in addition to improved speed, McMurray doesn’t believe he would have fared as well.

“Honestly the pit crew was what got us where we were along with a good car,” McMurray said.

Gaining positions during pit stops also meant scoring additional points in each stage and at the finish, which McMurray needed after resetting last on the Playoff Grid following the Round of 16.

By placing third in Stage 1 and 10th in Stage 2 on Sunday, he earned a valuable nine additional points that could make the difference between advancing or being eliminated after Kansas.

“I was worried with where we started being able to get any stage points,” McMurray said. “Our car’s so fast in the beginning, and then we had an awesome pit stop, so that was cool. We actually finished third in the first stage. Just a really good day for both our cars.”

He now sits eighth in the standings, one point above the first cutoff spot heading to Talladega Superspeedway where the unpredictability of plate racing could shake up the points.

However, McMurray is known for his plate racing prowess. He won the Playoff event at Talladega in 2013 and finished second in May but understands that there are no guarantees.

“There’s nothing you can do there,” McMurray said. “I know that we’ll have a shot to win and I also know that we’ll have a shot to get in a crash.”

Staying up front throughout the race would be McMurray’s best course of action, and his approach reflects that.

“We’ll try to race hard all day long and try to get as many stage points as we can and try to win the race, that’s our goal,” McMurray said.

Not many expected McMurray to be a significant Playoff contender, but after surviving the first round and coming alive at Charlotte, he could be the underdog of the post-season.

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Categories
Commentary

Stage Points Will Heighten Intensity of Elimination Races

The first round of eliminations in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs will showcase another element of stage racing in Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway.

Many must win-scenarios have played out in the post-season over the last three years. Kevin Harvick notably won at Phoenix in 2014 to make the Championship 4 before capturing the title.

Winning will still be the simplest way for a team to climb out of an elimination spot and advance to the Round of 12. However, stage racing is again changing the game.

A maximum of 20 points will be up for grabs in the first two stages at Dover, which will be valuable with a 21 point gap separating 12th from 16th on the Playoff Grid.

Kasey Kahne currently sits 16th and has consistently finished poorly over the last month. While this level of performance doesn’t seem to indicate an impending turnaround, strategizing to collect stage points could open the door late in the race.

Kurt Busch entered the post-season with momentum after three consecutive top-five finishes, but he has struggled ever since.

The No. 41 team is 17 points below the cutoff line and will need to rely on stage points to put themselves in position to advance by the end of the race.

A year ago, those higher than the Stewart-Haas Racing driver in the standings would have needed to face issues to give Busch a chance to advance. Now stage points are making it more realistic to mount a comeback.

Knowing where the competition is running will be critical for 12th through 14th place Ricky Stenhoue Jr., Austin Dillon, and Ryan Newman. Any point gained could make the difference between staying in contention and being eliminated, meaning they will need to race much more aggressively this weekend.

Even Jamie McMurray in 11th with a nine-point gap won’t be safe without a strong day as that advantage could be erased by the end of Stage 1.

NASCAR emphasized that every point would matter more in 2017 and it’s getting ready to play out in the first elimination race.

While previous cutoff races have featured tight points battles and must-win scenarios, stage points are now shaping up to create even more drama.

After two tame events to open the Playoffs, the “Monster Mile” could be an entirely different animal and make for an intense 400 laps for all teams on the bubble.

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Categories
Commentary

Stage Racing Enhancing Road Course Strategy

When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competes at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International, strategy becomes a more integral part of the race compared to oval events.

Unlike most venues, drivers can pit under green flag conditions without losing a lap, and the timing of these stops becomes critical to determining which cars ultimately battle for the trophy.

The addition of stage racing in 2017 further emphasizes the importance of strategy. Much like at Sonoma in June, teams will enter Sunday’s I LOVE NEW YORK 355 at the Glen prepared with game plans crafted towards either succeeding in the first two stages or overall event.

Sonoma featured a distinct divide between those who performed and finished well in each stage compared to how the end of the race unfolded.

Kevin Harvick took the victory but didn’t place inside the top-10 in the first two stages. Despite this, he led the second-most laps and pulled away to his first win of the season.

Clint Bowyer only completed Stage 1 in the top-10 but triumphed at the end to earn his second runner-up of 2017.

Brad Keselowski finished third after pitting late in Stage 1, staying out for Stage 2, and gaining crucial track position that put him up front for the rest of the event.

Similar storylines will likely emerge out of Watkins Glen.

With five races until the Playoffs begin, drivers on the bubble without a win will need every point to assure their opportunity to compete for the championship.

They will have to balance chasing victory while not giving up many stage points as they develop a strategy for Sunday. Seeing how much Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, and Matt Kenseth gain will help further piece together the post-season picture.

However, those three competitors will need to keep an eye on drivers who are in a must-win situation to climb into the top-16.

Road courses often even the playing field and typically don’t favor the best-performing cars of the season, opening the door for drivers on the outside of the title picture, including previous Watkins Glen winners Joey Logano and A.J. Allmendinger.

Seeing whether those who have to win to secure a Playoff spot or a past winner this season prevails adds another compelling storyline to an already highly anticipated event.

Watkins Glen has produced many memorable moments in recent years including epic last lap battles that pitted experienced road racers Marcos Ambrose and Allmendinger against the best of the sport with Kyle Busch, Keselowski, and Denny Hamlin, delivering thrilling finishes.

Producing more dramatic moments is a major goal of stage racing. By introducing this style of competition to the always exciting road course, it can only enhance one of the wildest events of the season.

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Treacherous and Tricky Used to Describe New Texas Surface

When tracks get repaved, sometimes it is great while drivers don’t applaud others. Right now with Texas Motor Speedway, there seems to be mixed feelings.

The morning practice left drivers concerned, with Ryan Blaney noting it was “very sketchy getting into turn one” throughout the first hour of practice. While Eddie Gossage and his staff ran a tire machine around the track numerous times forming a groove, it left the asphalt above and below “treacherous” for drivers to handle.

“It’s so dirty outside the groove,” Kasey Kahne said. “Anywhere you go where there aren’t cars going constantly, it’s really slippery. We’re just going to do the best we can and hopefully get a really good balance tomorrow and stay out of trouble. Five hundred miles is a long time.”

Martin Truex Jr. felt they could’ve done a better job cleaning the track before the start of practice.

“The groove was really, really narrow,” he said. “You seen as soon as guys started pushing it in qualifying trim especially at the end of practice they get out of the groove a little bit, you’re done. There’s nothing you can do. It’s so slippery. I wish the track was clean; then there would have been plenty of time to practice. I don’t think practice time is an issue. We got to clean race tracks before we get on ’em and run 200 miles an hour. Just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Beyond concerns surrounding the groove, the reconfiguration of turn one and two caught drivers off-guard, due to reference points.

“I think that is what everybody was looking for – something that was challenging,” Kevin Harvick said. “It is very hard when you get into turn one because you are so used to where the corner used to be. It is hard to pick up your reference points because the bottom is so far down there and you are so far out. You have to drive straight down the race track. It is hard to get situated in a couple of hours.”

The conditions waved their ugly head, with four having incidents in the session. Both Chase Elliott and Erik Jones were forced to back-up cars after crashes. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch‘s team had to fix his No. 18 Camry following wall contact, while Denny Hamlin went for a quick spin.

The problems carried over to qualifying with Jimmie Johnson spinning following his first lap, resulting in not being able to take part in round two due to three flat-spotted tires.

Despite concerns over the surface, there’s hope based on seeing more rubber being laid down through the sessions.

“It’s come a long way since this morning when we first unloaded,” Jamie McMurray said. “I think the XFINITY race is obviously going to widen it out a little bit.”

Even with conditions improving, there are still some wishing the old Texas was still here for another year.

“I mean I can’t say there is anything wrong with the race track, but man… I think I speak for everybody when I say we miss old Texas,” Ryan Newman said.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

RAPID REACTION: Second No More

Auto Club Speedway has become known for its late race restarts and unpredictable finishes in recent years. Sunday was no different as it came down to who wanted it most during an Overtime restart.

Kyle Larson refused to settle for anything but a victory after dominating the Auto Club 400. While late restarts haven’t been friendly to the No. 42 car in the past, fresh tires and determination earned Larson a home-state victory.

Second No More

Larson entered Sunday as the most dominant driver through the first four races of 2017. Three consecutive runner-up finishes placed him atop the points standings and hungry for that elusive victory.

He carried plenty of momentum into the weekend and only added to it by capturing the pole for the race and winning Saturday’s XFINITY Series event.

The 24-year-old has never performed better in his career and his impressive run that led to his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory attests to his strength behind the wheel.

Unsuccessful Strategy

Unlike last weekend at Phoenix Raceway when Ryan Newman opted not to pit under the final caution and captured the victory, a late pit stop proved to be the winning move on Sunday.

Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, and Jamie McMurray all stayed on track when the rest of the field took on fresh tires under the second to last caution. The three competitors held on briefly following the restart but were ultimately unable to challenge Larson for the win.

Truex Jr. ended up fourth, McMurray sixth, and Hamlin fell back to 14th after making contact with the wall coming off the final corner.

Comeback Performance

Brad Keselowski looked to be in for a long day after a stack up at the start of the race cut his tire down, and he spun to bring out the first caution on Lap 4.

However, the No. 2 team battled back throughout the day and found themselves in contention for the victory on the final restart. Keselowski restarted third and dived low beneath Hamlin entering Turn 1 and then exited Turn 2 battling side-by-side with Bowyer for second place.

He eventually cleared Bowyer but didn’t have enough time to challenge Larson as the No. 42 car pulled away, and Keselowski came home in the runner-up position, capping off an impressive afternoon.

Bowyer’s Back

Clint Bowyer made his presence known on Sunday as the Stewart-Haas Racing driver remained up front throughout the Auto Club 400 and finished third.

The third-place result was Bowyer’s best finish since placing third at Sonoma Raceway in 2015 during his final season driving for Michael Waltrip Racing. It was also his first top-five finish in 52 starts.

Now Bowyer will look to improve this result by two positions and break his winless drought that dates back over four years to October 2012 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Categories
XFINITY

Harvick, Keselowski, Elliott Among Drivers Commentating XFINITY Races

When watching NASCAR XFINITY Series events, fans have gotten used to hearing Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers as guest analysts throughout the year. The trend will continue for a third consecutive season as Fox Sports released the list of drivers taking part.

Past guest analysts Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano will return once again for 2017, with Harvick commentating five races with the Team Penske teammates get a pair each. Additionally, Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray will each make their debut in the booth this season, getting a race each.

As with previous seasons, the driver analyst will be partnered with FOX regulars Adam Alexander and Michael Waltrip for the events.

In the previous two seasons, drivers such as Danica Patrick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon have been used to fill the third spot. Gordon took his role in 2015, and turned it into a full-time position in the Cup Series side for 2016.

The trend continues FOX’s continuous involvement of drivers, previously announcing Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be a guest driver analyst for The Clash at Daytona, with Harvick serving a guest analyst for three Camping World Truck Series races this season. The solid involvement carries over to Fox Sports’ nightly NASCAR news and highlight program, NASCAR Race Hub, as they will use a solid rotation of drivers throughout the year, including Harvick, Keselowski, Logano, AJ Allmendinger, Bootie Barker, Austin DillonBobby Labonte, Casey Mears, David Ragan and Regan Smith.

foxschedule

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Categories
Commentary

Six Cup Veterans Who Can End Winless Streaks in 2017

It’s been a while for a few of NASCAR’s stars since they last celebrated in the winner’s circle. Here are six drivers that can potentially end their droughts and take the checkered flag again in 2017:

 

21-23 October, 2016, Talladega, Alabama USA Jamie McMurray © 2016, Nigel Kinrade NKP
(Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade | NKP)

Jamie McMurray, driver of the No. 1 for Chip Ganassi Racing

Winless streak: 112 races

Last win: Talladega, Oct. 2013

Why he can win in 2017: McMurray’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson won at Michigan International Speedway in 2016 so the two-car team proved it has some speed. It was a successful year for the Ganassi duo as both drivers made the Chase, although they were eliminated in the opening Round of 16. Technically, McMurray’s last win was the 2014 All-Star race, but that doesn’t count towards the championship standings. He has seven career points victories, with four of them coming at restrictor plate tracks Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Keep an eye on the No. 1 car Daytona in February, he won “The Great American Race” in 2010.

 

18-20 November, 2016, Homestead, Florida USA Kasey Kahne © 2016, Nigel Kinrade NKP
(Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade | NKP)

Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports

Winless streak: 83 races

Last win: Atlanta, Aug. 2014

Why he can win in 2017: Kahne has struggled quite a bit the last three seasons. Since the beginning of 2014, he has nine top-five finishes and only one victory. He’s missed the Chase the last two years but showed signs of improvement toward the end of 2016 with seven top 10s in the last 12 races. Kahne is in a top-notch ride with HMS, so he’s expected to break the drought and get his career back on track. He has the talent — remember, he has 17 career wins in NASCAR’s premier series.

 

16-17 September, 2016, Joliet, Illinois USA Clint Bowyer ©2016, Brett Moist NKP
(Photo credit: Brett Moist | NKP)

Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 for Stewart-Haas Racing

Winless streak: 149 races

Last win: Richmond, Sept. 2012

Why he can win in 2017: Bowyer will be with a championship-winning organization again this season. The 2016 campaign was the worst year of his Cup career, posting only three top 10s with the now-defunct HScott Motorsports. But he’s taking over Tony Stewart’s car and with two former champions as teammates at SHR (Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch,) his career should certainly be rejuvenated. Expect him to fight for wins in 2017 and battle in the Chase for the first time since 2015.

 

13-15 May, 2016, Dover, Delaware USA Ryan Newman ©2016, Matthew T. Thacker NKP
(Photo credit: Matthew T. Thacker | NKP)

Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 31 for Richard Childress Racing

Winless streak: 124 races

Last win: Indianapolis, July 2013

Why he can win in 2017: Like Kahne, Newman has 17 career wins and has struggled since 2014 — despite finishing second in the 2014 championship, one point behind Harvick. But he hasn’t won since joining RCR and RCR hasn’t won since Harvick took the No. 29 to Victory Lane at Phoenix International Raceway in Nov. 2013. So why should the No. 31 driver be optimistic? Point blank — he knows how to wheel a racecar. He’s won some of NASCAR’s biggest races, including the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. His RCR teammate Austin Dillon made the Chase last season and showed his young career is trending upward. If Newman can find speed and improve like Dillon, he has the ability to win just about anywhere.

 

9-10 September, 2016, Richmond, Virginia USA AJ Allmendinger ©2016, Russell LaBounty NKP
(Photo credit: Russell LaBounty | NKP)

A.J. Allmendinger, driver of the No. 47 for JTG Daugherty Racing

Winless streak: 86 races

Last win: Watkins Glen, Aug. 2014

Why he can win in 2017: In the last three seasons, Allmendinger has proved himself as NASCAR’s road course specialist. He earned his first career victory at Watkins Glen International in 2014, won the pole for Sonoma Raceway and The Glen in 2015, and got one of his two top-five results in 2016 at The Glen (fourth). He’s also had strong performances at Martinsville Speedway the last two years. He finished second at the short track’s spring race in 2016, 10th in the fall race, and led 19 laps in the fall 2015 race. Simply put — he’s got a knack for the tracks with tight turns and heavy braking.

 

18-20 March, 2016, Fontana, Fontana USA Dale Earnhardt Jr © 2016, Nigel Kinrade NKP
(Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade | NKP)

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 for Hendrick Motorsports

Winless streak: 19 races

Last win: Phoenix, Nov. 2015

Why he can win in 2017: Well, he’ll be back in a racecar in 2017. After sitting out half the 2016 season, it feels like his personal winless streak is longer than what it really is; nevertheless, he had speed when he was in the car last year. He had five top-five finishes and four of them were second-place results. He’s also one of the best restrictor plate racers in the series, so there’s no doubt he’ll be a favorite for any race that occurs at Daytona or Talladega. He’s healthy and eager to compete again, so get ready to watch your driver win again this season, Jr. Nation.

Your prediction?

Is there a driver not listed here that you think will make a long-awaited return to Victory Lane?

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Jamie McMurray

Jamie McMurray made the Chase for the second straight year based on points, but he didn’t contend for the championship, nor find himself in Victory Lane in 2016.

 

Car No.: 1

Crew Chief: Matt McCall

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Wins: 0

Top-Fives: 2

Top-10s: 12

Points Finish: 13th

2016 Quick Summary: McMurray had a decidedly quiet 2016 season, with no wins but only three finishes outside the top 30. A steady, consistent approach to the season allowed him to make the Chase for the second year in a row in his second season with crew chief Matt McCall.

Six top-10s in the 10 races before the Chase, including a seventh at Richmond, gave McMurray a cushion in the cutoff race. His only worry was whether Kasey Kahne could pull off the last-minute win and knock him out, but Kahne came up short.

However, a bad finish in the last race of the Round of 16 meant McMurray would once again fail to make it past the first round of the Chase.

2016 Highlight(s): McMurray’s best finish of the season came at the May Talladega race. Despite being involved in two accidents during the event, including the 21-car wreck on lap 162, he was able to battle back for a fourth-place finish. His other top five of the season came in the finale at Homestead, where he finished fifth.

2016 Lowlight(s): McMurray’s worst finish came at a very inopportune time. In the cutoff race of the Round of 16 at Dover, the No. 1 team suffered a blown engine and finished last, ending any chance of advancing to the next round of the Chase.

He also had the dubious honor, along with Kahne, of not leading a single lap during the season.

2017 Outlook: The relationship between McMurray and McCall seems to be working, as the pair has not missed the Chase yet. He also has a great teammate in Kyle Larson, who continues to improve each year. With Stewart-Haas Racing moving to Ford and HScott Motorsports suspending operations, Chip Ganassi Racing will be the only team with Hendrick support. If all these relationships continue to improve, look for McMurray to be competing for top-fives and wins next year, rather than just top-10s.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.