At the track where he won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race in 2002, Jamie McMurray was able to power past Carl Edwards on the final ten-lap shootout to win the Sprint All Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night.
Edwards and McMurray were side by side on the final restart and battled for the lead making contact a couple of times before McMurray was able to move ahead and to the point. From there McMurray was able to stretch out his lead and score his first win in NASCAR’s All-Star event. The winning move came earlier in the race when McMurray stayed out on older tires after the second segment to gain track position and eventually the win.
A total of 22 drivers started the non-points event, but only 15 finished. Those finding trouble included two early leaders and several favorites.
Polesitter Edwards looked strong early taking the lead when the green fell, but Kyle Busch caught him on lap 10. Busch would go on to win the first 20 lap segment with Jeff Gordon second, Kevin Harvick third, Kasey Kahne fourth with Edwards fifth.
During the first caution period, the top three took only two tires. Brad Keselowski led off pit road, Ryan Newman was second, Kurt Busch third. Denny Hamlin elected to stay out however and took the lead.
Edwards moved to second by lap 26 and passed Hamlin just as Kyle Busch spun along the backstretch after making contact with Clint Bowyer; he spun up the track and took out Joey Logano. Both Busch and Logano were done for the night.
Edwards led Hamlin back to the green after the caution. As the field exited turn 2, 10th place AJ Allmendinger spun after making contact with Brian Vickers and crashed into the inside wall bringing out another caution. Edwards led Kahne on the restart but two laps later Kahne took the lead and was soon checking out. Harvick moved to second with two laps to go in the segment. Kahne held on to win the second segment as caution flew at lap 40.
The lead group pitted but four cars, McMurray, Kenseth, Keselowski and Truex however stayed out; Biffle won off pit road with two tires followed by Earnhardt.
“We were running really good lap times compared to what we had run before,” winning crew chief Keith Rodden said. “After that we stayed out and when no one stayed out in front of us, I knew we had something.”
Kahne with four tires was soon moving through the field and was up to third by lap 43. By lap 48 Kahne caught and passed McMurray for the lead. From that point Kahne checked out to a lead of just over 1.5 seconds and won segment three.
The entire field pitted during the caution with the top four taking only two tires. McMurray led off pit road followed by Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch. McMurray led but as the field entered turn 3, Biffle, Gordon and Truex crashed after Gordon came up into Truex; Biffle was swept up in the aftermath.
“Something broke in the front end,” Gordon said. “Either a tire or something in the suspension because I was going down the back straightaway and as I was getting to the corner it just sat down and started going straight. I hate we caught those guys up top on the outside of me.”
McMurray held the lead over Keselowski and Harvick when the green came out on lap 67. Harvick was able to slip into second a lap later. Back in the pack, Kahne reported that he had hit the wall. Harvick caught McMurray by lap 74. On lap 77 Harvick shoved McMurray entering turn 3 and took the lead holding the top spot and winning the segment. Kahne hit the wall again as the segment ended.
The order for the final pit stops prior to the final ten laps was determined by the average finishes in the first four segments. Harvick was first, with McMurray second, Johnson third, Earnhardt Jr. fourth and Edwards fifth. The field was required to all take four tires on the final stop.
“I think the mentality going into that last segment is just all or nothing,” McMurray said. “That was my thought process. I am like, I don't really care if we wreck, I don't care what happens, I'm racing for a million dollars, I get to start on the front row and I'm going to make the very most out of the restart and everything that goes with this.”
Edwards led off pit road followed by McMurray, Harvick, Kenseth and Johnson in fifth. McMurray and Edwards battled door to door for the lead making contact several times before McMurray was able to get by and started to stretch out his lead.
“Honestly I wanted Carl to take the outside of the restart because I thought the inside was the better place,” McMurray said. “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 right now because literally you can see the million bucks.”
Harvick was able to get by Edwards for third and looked to catch McMurray whose lead was just over 1.5 seconds. Despite a valiant effort by Harvick that cut the lead to just under a second, McMurray was able to power to victory and a $1 million payday. Behind Harvick, Kenseth was third, Earnhardt Jr. fourth and Edwards fifth.
“It's three or four of the hardest laps I've ever driven in my racing career,” McMurray said. “It's one of those memories that I hope I never forget. I have such a clear vision of those three or four laps with the 99 car being on the inside of me, and it's what we wake up every single day and live for is to get to be put in that exact position. It's really awesome.”