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.
Nationwide Series: Busch and the gang head to Texas
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.
Camping World Truck Series: Busch matches Hornaday's win total
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Racing Resources Says
Sprint Cup Series
- Jamie McMurray won the AMP Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. This marked McMurray's first win in 15 races at Talladega.
- McMurray became the 14th different race winner in 2009.
- This was the first victory by a Ford since Matt Kenseth won at California in February.
- McMurray became the first non-Chase driver to score a Chase victory since Greg Biffle at Kansas in 2007, ending a 23-race streak of victories in Chase races by a Chase driver.
- McMurray scored his fifth top-10 finish in 15 races at Talladega. He started Sunday's race in the 22nd-place position.
- McMurray scored his second restrictor-plate victory in 29 career restrictor-plate races. He also won at Daytona in July 2007.
- McMurray scored his third Cup victory in his 255th career start.
- This was the third victory by Roush Fenway Racing at Talladega.
- Jimmie Johnson holds the points lead by 184 over second-place Mark Martin. This is the largest points lead in the 2009 Chase.
- The biggest points comeback with three races remaining occurred in 1990 when Dale Earnhardt came from 49 points behind to win the title.
- The biggest points lead overcome with three to go in the Chase was 26 points by Jimmie Johnson in 2006. Interestingly, Johnson was minus-9 points with three to go in 2007. In 2008 he was the points leader and never looked back.
- Kasey Kahne (second) tied his best Talladega finish. Kahne has competed in 24 career restrictor-plate races without a victory. It was his best finish in the 2009 Chase. He climbed from 11th to ninth in points.
- Joey Logano (third) was the highest-finishing rookie.
- Greg Biffle (fourth) scored his best Talladega finish in 14 races there. It was his second straight top-10 finish at Talladega. He finished seventh there in April. He climbed from eighth to seventh in points.
- Jeff Burton (fifth) ended an 18-race streak of finishes of 14th or worse.
- Jimmie Johnson (sixth) scored his seventh top-10 finish in 16 races at Talladega.
- Johnson's worst finish in the last 33 Chase races is 15th (Texas and Homestead in 2008).
- Johnson, who failed to lead, ended a 13-race streak of leading a lap at Talladega. Johnson led in just one of the four restrictor-plate races this season (two laps at the first Talladega race). Johnson has led in 27 of the 33 races this season, the only driver to do so.
- Elliott Sadler (ninth) extended a 14-race streak of leading a lap at Talladega.
- McMurray led five times for a race-high 32 laps, including the final 11. Before Sunday, he had led just one lap all season (the first Pocono race).
- Casey Mears (25th) is the only driver to finish on the lead lap in the last five races at Talladega.
- Martin (28th) remained second but lost 66 points on first-place Johnson.
- Kurt Busch finished 30th in his 350th career start.
- Martin Truex Jr. finished 31st in his 150th career start.
- Tony Stewart (35th) ended a 55-race streak of running at the finish.
- Denny Hamlin (38th) was the lowest-finishing Chase driver at Talladega.
- The top 10 consisted of four Chevrolets, three Fords, two Toyotas and one Dodge.
Camping World Truck Series
- Kyle Busch won the Mountain Dew 250 at Talladega Superspeedway. It was his 15th Truck win in his 66th career start and his first series victory at Talladega in his third start there.
- Busch posted his sixth win of 2009, tying him with Ron Hornaday Jr. for the most. Busch has won in his last four truck starts. He is the third different race winner at Talladega.
- This is the third win for Toyota at Talladega and 13th of the season. Toyota won its fourth manufacturers championship.
- Billy Ballew Motorsports posted its 16th series victory.
- Busch led twice for 10 laps.
- It is the 26th last-lap pass in the series and second at Talladega.
- Aric Almirola (second) tied his career-best finish.
- It was Billy Ballew Motorsports' first 1-2 finish in their 300th and 301st career starts.
- Todd Bodine (third) broke a streak of four consecutive wins on superspeedways.
- Mario Gosselin (sixth) scored his best career finish. His previous best was 17th at Lowe's earlier this year.
- Justin Hobgood (ninth) scored his best career finish. His previous best was 20th at Daytona in 2008.
- Hornaday (17th) lost 22 points to Matt Crafton (10th) in the Truck standings and now leads Crafton by 202. It is the second-largest points lead with three races to go.
- Hornaday has still not led at Talladega, but he has led on 38 of the 42 tracks he has competed on.
- Johnny Sauter (14th) was the best-finishing rookie of the year contender among the six in the race.
- The top 10 consisted of six Toyotas and four Chevrolets.
-- Racing Resources