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Jamie McMurray was not on anyone’s short list of potential NASCAR Sprint All-Star winners.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver ranked 24th in championship points coming into the event, with just two Top-10 finishes in 11 starts this season and a best finish of sixth.
But Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, McMurray was NASCAR’s “Million Dollar Man,” moving steadily forward in the race’s four preliminary segments, then executing a testosterone-rich maneuver to squeeze past pole sitter Carl Edwards in the final, 10-lap sprint to claim a lead he would never relinquish.
McMurray started mid-pack Saturday and managed only an 11th-place finish in the opening 20-lap segment. He was 10th in Segment Two, then then rolled the dice prior to the start of the third 20-lap session, foregoing a pit stop in favor of improved track position. He overcame those older tires to finish third behind winner Kasey Kahne and runner-up Kevin Harvick, then trailed Harvick to the checkered flag in Segment Four.
His 6.5 average finish earned him an outside-pole starting spot in the decisive, 10-lap finale, and when he squeezed between Edwards and the Turn Two SAFER barrier following the drop of the green flag, he was able to claim the lead and hold it to the finish.
“That’s what you grow up wanting to do, to have a shootout like that,” said McMurray afterward. “Honestly, I wanted Carl to take the outside on the (final) restart, because I thought the inside was the better place. I had restarted on the inside both times before and been able to beat the guy to Turn 1, and when he took the inside, I was like, `Screw it, I don't care. If we drive off into the corner and we all wreck, I don't care. I can see the million bucks.’”
McMurray called the start of the final segment, “three or four of the hardest laps I've ever driven in my racing career. It's one of those memories that I hope I never forget. I have such a clear vision of those laps with the 99 car on the inside of me. That's what we wake up every single day and live for; to get to be put in that exact position.
“This is just a really awesome moment, said McMurray, whose best finish in seven previous All-Star Races was an eighth last season. “It's so much different than winning the Daytona 500 or the Brickyard 400, because there are no points. The mentality going into that last segment is `all or nothing,’ and that was my thought process. I was like, `I don't really care if we wreck, I don't care what happens. I'm racing for a million dollars. I'm going to make the most of the restart and everything that goes with it.’”
Team owner Chip Ganassi said he had confidence that his driver would prevail in a final-segment shootout with Edwards.
“I think Jamie likes this place,” he said. “If he gets a sniff of the front, he gets a calm over him. He likes it up there.”
Harvick overhauled Edwards in the late laps to finish second, and later blamed poor pit stops for his inability to challenge for the win.
“We had a really fast race car and we did all the things we needed to do to put ourselves in position on the race track,” he said. “We just couldn’t get it done on pit road tonight. If I could have gotten up front, I could have held on, (but we) ran out of time as we got to the closing laps.”
Matt Kenseth finished third, followed by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Edwards. Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski completed the Top-10.