And yet, and yet, and yet ... those other guys are in the Chase, and Jamie McMurray isn't, obviously. His average finish is 16th, even taking into consideration those three wins this year (as well as two seconds and two thirds), and that points to something off in the No. 1 team.
So what's the issue? Lack of killer instinct, the kind of accusation hurled at Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., doesn't appear to be the issue. McMurray may have frosted tips, but the guy can run down anyone on the race track, and can hold a lead once he's got it.
Is it a track-comfort issue? McMurray has long been known as a restrictor-plate expert -- his last four finishes at the restrictor-plate tracks are 1, 1, 2 and 39 (thanks to a wreck at Daytona this summer) -- but he's just now starting to work his way into comfort at the 1.5-milers.
Is it a pit crew issue? Perhaps. Crew efficiency is a tricky thing; one missed lug nut is the difference between first and fifth. That's something that can't be helped, but can be corrected; the more prominence McMurray gets, the more he'll be able to correct top-flight crew talent. Another year with Earnhardt-Ganassi should go far toward improving that comfort zone.
One other element to the Charlotte win: McMurray last won at Charlotte in 2002, when he pulled off a miracle upset. Subbing for the injured Sterling Marlin, and running in just his second Winston/Sprint-level race ever, McMurray held off the field to win. Here, check it out:
Back then, everyone expected McMurray to become one of NASCAR's top drivers. Now, nearly a decade later, he might finally be ready for that title.
- Jamie McMurray