SPARTA, Ky. -- Sunday brought something Jamie McMurray hadn't experienced in almost two years -- a top-five finish on NASCAR's premier circuit.
The Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver took advantage of misfortune that befell a few others, and surged to a runner-up finish behind winner Matt Kenseth at Kentucky Speedway. It was McMurray's first top-five result since Bristol in the late summer of 2011, and his first finish of second or better since his most recent victory, which came at Charlotte during his charmed three-win campaign of 2010.
"I didn't feel like we ran significantly better today than the past 10 or 12 weeks -- we were able to get the finish out of it," McMurray said. "We didn't have any flat tires, or radiators break, or people's parts fall off the car and go through our radiator. It was a good day. (We) got a little unlucky on the last restart with the bottom line checking up, and then our car was just about as good as it had been all day on the last run."
He was in the right place in the right time, given that leader Jimmie Johnson -- who dominated the rain-delayed event by leading 182 of 267 laps -- spun off the penultimate restart. Denny Hamlin, another contender in the top 10, went out late with a tire failure. McMurray kept moving up from his 26th-place starting position, cracking the top-five 90 laps in, and maintaining position in the top 10 for most of the remainder of the race.
So when Johnson spun with 20 laps remaining, McMurray was right there, and snuck by the No. 48 car on the high side. Although he wasn't able to mount a serious challenge to Kenseth in the final laps, McMurray did distance himself from third-place finisher Clint Bowyer, and the end result was still vastly improved from much of what he's experienced this season.
The driver of the No. 1 car enjoyed a nice start to the year, standing as high as 11th in points after a seventh-place finish at Kansas in late April. Since then, though, he's battled one issue after another, and came to Kentucky 21st in the standings and barely on the fringes of the Chase for the Sprint Cup contention.
Through it all, though, he's contended that EGR cars have been fast, faster than ever they were in a 2010 season when McMurray won the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 500, and the fall Charlotte race -- and would have made the Chase under the current format. Teammate Juan Pablo Montoya has enjoyed an uptick in performance, nearly winning at Richmond before placing fourth, and finishing second four weeks ago at Dover.
"Our cars, I feel like, are better than they were in 2010 when we were winning races. The 42 (car of Montoya) should have won Richmond this year. They have had some extremely quick cars, as well. The 1 team has had a lot of fifth- to 10?place cars, but since Richmond ? it has been a disaster, and it's not performance?wise," McMurray said.
"We've been really quick. Had really good cars. It's just the last 10 percent of the race, something has happened each week. Michigan, blew a tire. Dover, something fell off a car and went through our radiator. Charlotte, the radiator broke. Last weekend (at Sonoma), had a flat tire with, I don't know, 30 laps to go or whatever. It's just every week it's been something. So it's nice to have some good luck. I feel good about it."
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