Top 20 Countdown: No. 13 Jamie McMurray
Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the top 20 drivers of the 2011 season. The order was determined by a survey, which asked five NASCAR journalists – Jay Busbee and Jay Hart (Yahoo! Sports), Jenna Fryer (Associated Press), Dustin Long (Landmark Newspapers) and Nate Ryan (USA Today) – to predict the final standings for the 2011 season. The countdown will conclude on Feb. 11 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.
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2010 finish: 14th
Our 2011 predictions:
• Jay Busbee: 9th
• Jay Hart: 20th
• Jenna Fryer: 8th
• Dustin Long: 13th
• Nate Ryan: Not ranked in top 20
2011 outlook: In 2010, Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, a career-high three races and still didn’t qualify for the Chase.
Why? Because McMurray employed Kyle Busch’s “checkers or wreckers” strategy. Of his seven top 10s in 2010, five were top-five finishes. But in the 33 races McMurray didn’t win, he finished outside the top 15 a total of 19 times.
His was a rare combination of dominance and futility, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Winning races is the hard part. Now that he’s proven he’s capable of doing that, cutting down on the sub-15th-place finishes should be easy, right?
Of course, this assumes that McMurray can duplicate the good of 2010, which he certainly can. He’s always a contender on the restrictor-plate tracks, he’s quickly becoming a force on the 1.5-mile ovals and he doesn’t necessarily have to win the Daytona 500 or the Brickyard 400 again. After all, winning at Pocono in June pays the same amount of points as winning in Daytona in February.
In the seven-year history of the Chase, McMurray has contended for a spot three times. He’s yet to qualify. This season will be his best chance yet.
What you need to know: Only one time in 2010 did McMurray post back-to-back top-10 finishes.