Related: Sprint Showdown results
CONCORD, N.C. -- Jamie McMurray knows how hard it is to be a driver in the Sprint Cup Series and not participate in the sport's all-star event. He experienced that last year, and Saturday night made sure he didn't again.
McMurray ran out to an early lead and was never challenged in the Sprint Showdown, leading all 40 laps in the event to clinch a berth in the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also transferred by finishing second, and ninth-place Danica Patrick earned the third available spot in the $1-million-to-win exhibition through the Sprint Fan Vote.
McMurray led from start to finish, even though he was technically second on the race track after Casey Mears stayed out during a round of pit stops between the two 20-lap segments. But when the race went back to green it once again belonged to McMurray, who had taken four tires, and won on the track where he claimed his first Sprint Cup victory, as a substitute for the injured Sterling Marlin with Ganassi in 2002.
It's the sixth all-star appearance for McMurray, who wasn't qualified for last year's event and was unable to race his way in through the Showdown.
"If you're a full-time Sprint Cup guy, and you don't win a race, and you're in that race ? it's really hard," McMurray said. "You want to feel like you're a part of those guys. If you go home early tonight, for the guys leaving now, it's hard to drive out of here and listen to this on the radio, or get home and take a shower and watch it on TV. It's an honor to get to do this tonight."
Martin Truex Jr., the lone driver from last year's Chase for the Sprint Cup in the event, was second to McMurray as the race hit the midway point. But his grasp on that second transfer spot slipped in the final segment, when he grazed the wall in traffic and fell back. Stenhouse, a two-time Nationwide Series champion in his rookie season on the sport's premier tour, took over second and followed McMurray to the finish.
"We wanted to win that thing," said Stenhouse, who led Showdown practice Friday, and will make his first All-Star Race appearance. "I thought we had a car yesterday that was going to be capable of running up front for the lead. But we'll take second and give ourselves an opportunity to keep working on it for next week (in the Coca-Cola 600). The more laps the better for me."
Immediately after the race, McMurray radioed to his team that his car had developed a vibration over the final six laps of the race. Later, he told reporters he was a little concerned because he didn't know the source of the vibration. Regardless, the main event shaped up as a much more difficult chore for the EGR driver, who would lose the clean air he thrived in during the Showdown by starting in the back.
"Starting in the back is going to be completely different," he said. "? It's going to be really hard to pass cars. I think there's going to be a lot of strategy in the pits. I can tell you I've raced my way in before, but I have a much better car here than I've had before."
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