Driver of No. 1 leads race-high 148 laps but can't get back out front
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BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Jamie McMurray has won some of the biggest races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is a former Daytona 500 winner. He has won the Brickyard 400. He's won the Sprint All-Star Race. He's also won the fall race at Charlotte (twice), the summer race at Daytona and has a pair of wins at Talladega.
He has not won the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Saturday night, he came close.
"It's tough because I've gotten to win all the big races so far and this is the one race that's on my bucket list," McMurray said after leading 148 laps before finishing eighth.
"If I could win one more race in my career, the night race at Bristol is it."
McMurray, 38, was able to hold off the advances of Matt Kenseth (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Joey Logano (Team Penske) for much of the second half of the 500-lap event. He put four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon a lap down with less than 150 laps remaining.
"Dude, that 1 is the leader?" Gordon asked crew chief Alan Gustafson over the radio. "... He's just flying on the bottom (of the track)."
McMurray was still leading at Lap 432 when the caution appeared for debris. Because four teams stayed out under the yellow flag, McMurray, who pitted, restarted fifth. He was unable to work his way back to the front in the closing laps.
"It really didn't have anything to do with the pit call as much as my car just got really tight the last 100 laps and I was really hanging on for 40 of those laps just staying ahead of Matt and Joey," McMurray said. "It seemed like I could get through lapped traffic a little bit better. But as the top rubbered in the last time I just couldn't rotate the middle like I could early in the race."
McMurray jumped three spots in the points standings, to 16th, with the finish. A win would go a long way to securing a bid in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which will consist of 16 teams.
"Getting to make the Chase, you just want to go run well every week," he said. "It's pretty awesome to lead all those laps tonight and have that good of a car."
Much of the credit, he said, goes to crew chief Keith Rodden, the former engineer who took over the helm of the No. 1 team this season. Even if Rodden has a tendency to make wholesale changes the night before a race.
"We talked last night in the motorhome lot and we changed everything on our car," McMurray said. "I laughed because I'm not real sure why we practice, because on Saturday night he tends to change a lot of stuff. He does an amazing job to come up with a really nice setup.
"That was definitely the best car I've had all year long. It's just about putting the race together all at the right time. And we had the best car, I felt like for the first three quarters of the race."
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