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AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt
Anyone can win at Talladega.
If you can glean any positive out of a race overflowing with negatives, that's it.
Jamie McMurray, a man looking for a ride next season, earned a much-needed victory at the haunted house of NASCAR, a place where parity becomes a reality.
McMurray ranks 22nd in the season standings. He didn't have a top-5 finish this year until going to Victory Lane on Sunday at Talladega.
Only three Chase drivers finished in the top 10. Five of them ended up in wrecked cars or with empty gas tanks, and two Chasers -- Ryan Newman and Mark Martin -- went flipping through the air but walked away unscathed.
And no one is surprised. The rules change, as NASCAR officials did Sunday to mandate no bump drafting in the turns. But the results are the same -- madness at the end and luck of the draw as to which man ends up out front.
The restrictor plates on the giant Alabama oval often make stars of also-rans and scrap metal of cars that contend to win everywhere else.
Robert Richardson Jr., making his Cup debut, finished 18th in a start-and-park car, the No. 36 Toyota.
Instead of the same six or seven drivers vying for the victory, everyone is a contender at Dega.
"It wasn't a fluke that Jamie won," team owner Jack Roush told reporters after the race. "Jamie certainly had a good car. He had speed all day. He deserved to win the race."
In McMurray's defense, he played the drafting game to perfection and maneuvered to the right place at the right time. He also led the most laps in the No. 26 Ford.
"When I tried to move up through the field, they were three-wide, 10 rows deep," McMurray said in the postrace press conference. "I said, 'It's just going to be luck, whoever can get in the right row and make the moves.'
"Fortunately I shot around a couple of rows and our car was really fast. I was able to get to the front."
It couldn't have come at a better time. McMurray is the odd man out at Roush Fenway Racing, which must downsize next year from five cars to four.
McMurray still could end up in the No. 1 Chevrolet next season at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. But he's still in limbo for the moment, uncertain about his future.
"There aren't a lot of rides available right now," McMurray said. "With the amount of teams that are shutting down, there's not a lot of options. Everybody knows what rides are out there.
"I just hope we can get signed and then announce it whenever they want to so it will be a little bit easier to sleep at night."
Sunday was McMurray's first victory since July 2007 at Daytona, so two of his three career victories have come at restrictor-plate tracks.
But McMurray was seen as a possible championship contender when he left Chip Ganassi's team for RFR in 2006. It didn't turn out that way.
"Coming over here I thought [making the Chase] would be a sure bet," McMurray said. "It just hasn't been as good as what it needed to be. I'll miss being a part of this organization, but you never know. I might end up driving for Jack one day again."
The irony of McMurray's departure from RFR is the fact that his relationship with Roush is better now than it ever was in the past.
"My first year or so, Jack was a little bit mean to me," McMurray said, grinning at his boss. "His motivating skills -- he just wasn't pushing the right button. But Jack has become a really good friend of mine in the last year. And he's learned to push the right button."
Too late to save McMurray's spot, but maybe soon enough to ensure McMurray gets a quality ride in 2010.
The Nationwide Series had a bye week but returns this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Three races remain in the 2009 season, which is heading toward a championship for Kyle Busch.
He has a 215-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards. If Busch holds on, he will become the fourth consecutive Cup regular to win the Nationwide title, but the first to win it without also making the Cup Chase.
Kyle Busch isn't going to win the Camping World Truck Series crown, only because he didn't run the full schedule. But he could finish with the most victories.
His win Saturday at Talladega gave Busch six victories in only 12 series starts this season, tying him with Ron Hornaday Jr. for the most victories this year.
Hornaday is on his way to a record fourth championship. He leads Matt Crafton by 202 points with three races to go.Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at email@example.com.
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