- Ed Hinton, NASCAR
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CONCORD, N.C. -- Let me get this straight: Jamie McMurray checked out on all the Chasers Saturday night, beat them handily here, on top of winning NASCAR's two biggest races of the year, the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400
And he's not even in the Chase.
If he were, then his win of the Bank of America 500 would have brought him within 87 points of leader Jimmie Johnson, who finished third Saturday night.
But he's not, and he isn't, despite what some are calling a career season for McMurray.
What does that tell you about NASCAR's obsession with almighty consistency, whether with a playoff system or the old points system?
It tells you that creating some of the most dazzling moments in a season doesn't necessarily count for much. It tells you adding some high finishes in big races -- second at Talladega, and second in the Coca-Cola 600 here -- need not matter much either.
It tells you there are no points awarded for being the comeback driver -- and how -- of the year.
This time a year ago, McMurray was being pushed out at Roush Fenway Racing, and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing was a tenuous team, struggling to regain balance, searching for a driver to replace the departing Martin Truex Jr.
No points awarded for all that, but McMurray has found his own bliss, made his own peace, with it.
The final 21 laps, as he blew away the race's previous dominator, Kyle Busch, were something of a religious experience for McMurray.
"As those laps were winding down, I was thinking about Daytona and crying in Victory Lane," he said. If it seems strange that he'd be thinking all the way back to February, just remember what a triumph in itself that was for the patched-together team to win right out of the box.
"I had a tough year last year. And I found out the power of prayer and so when you get to Victory Lane, and you get to experience it, it makes you a believer "
And Saturday night, "Honestly, it made the laps go by really fast."
He checked out effortlessly on Busch, Johnson and Denny Hamlin, who finished behind him in that order.
Recovering from an early race spin, Johnson's third-place comeback kept him 41 points ahead of Hamlin in the Chase. Had McMurray made the Chase, and received 20 seed points for his wins at Daytona and Indianapolis, his 190 points Saturday night would have pushed him to 5,756, third in the Chase, 87 points behind Johnson's total of 5,843.
For Hamlin, "It was a battle" all evening, he said. "We were stuck like third to fifth all day, and just couldn't get it quite right. We kept them in our sights but that's all we could do."
McMurray's Chevrolet's clear superiority over Busch's Toyota at the end made the laps go by too fast -- too agonizingly -- for Busch, who'd led 217 of the 334 laps.
"One of the best cars we've ever had," Busch called it. "This was a great run. A surprising run. The runs we're supposed to have. The runs we're supposed to make happen.
Our car was unbelievable those last 25 or 30 laps. It was effortless to drive, and it had a lot of speed in it.
”-- Jamie McMurray
"It was a great feeling -- until about 20 to go. We got a caution and then got beat on the caution. Just very frustrating for me."
With far more humility than typical anger at finishing second, Busch added, "I apologize to everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing for not being able to bring it home."
Busch thought the caution did him in, but McMurray knew better. Indeed, McMurray hated to see the last caution come out too.
Going into that yellow, McMurray was running second but slashing steadily into Busch's lead.
"As I was catching Kyle, I was thinking, 'As long as the caution doesn't come out, we're gonna be able to win this thing,'" McMurray said, "because I was catching him pretty fast.
"And then when the caution came out I really wasn't sure I was going to have enough speed to outrun him in 25 or 30 laps."
But when the green flew with 21 to go, McMurray was gone, free and clear, as Johnson came up to pester and challenge Busch briefly.
"Our car was unbelievable those last 25 or 30 laps," McMurray said. "It was effortless to drive, and it had a lot of speed in it."
McMurray said he felt almost obligated to win this one for Ganassi, because he'd finished second here in the spring -- and failed to follow up on Ganassi's Indianapolis 500 win earlier that day with Dario Franchitti. Winning here would have made Ganassi the first owner ever to sweep America's two biggest Memorial Day weekend races.
"After coming so close in the 600 earlier in the season, I really felt like anything less than winning this weekend would have been disappointing," McMurray said. "I talked to Chip earlier today and we were discussing where this organization was a year ago. And how far we've come. To be in Victory Lane four times this year [McMurray's three wins, plus teammate Juan Pablo Montoya's at Watkins Glen], to have both cars run as well as they do It's incredible, and I just feel very blessed to be a part of it."
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.