NASCAR's Jamie McMurray could be the Chase for the Sprint Cup's party-crasher this weekend.
McMurray, of Joplin, Mo., missed qualifying by one position for what turned out to be a 13-man Chase, but he may have something to say about who wins the Sprint Cup championship.
McMurray finished a surprising fifth at New Hampshire two weeks ago and was 11th -- following 10 Chase drivers -- last week at Dover.
It wasn't the first time he's excelled as a non-Chaser. In 2010, McMurray won the fall race at Charlotte, and it was his performance that year, which included winning the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, that led to NASCAR increasing the Chase field from 10 to 12 drivers.
Unfortunately, McMurray has yet to take advantage of that change and has to be content with playing the role of spoiler.
"I give the same effort every week," McMurray said Friday when asked why he seems to race better after the Chase field has been determined. "I don't know if there's some guys who get deflated when they don't make the Chase, and it seems like maybe some of those teams start trying off-the-wall ideas because they're not in the Chase."
To McMurray, it doesn't benefit teams out of the Chase to do much experimenting because there will be some rules changes for next season, including rules governing the height of the car on the track.
"I don't see a big advantage in experimenting because until we get to test that car in the offseason and we find out exactly what the rules are, I think for the rest of the year you just do what works best," McMurray said. "But it sure does seem odd that we've been a really good car not in the Chase.
"Our cars are actually better now than they were in 2010. We haven't won the races that we did in 2010, but the cars have been really good. A lot of the speed has just come from making good decisions in the race and getting ourselves in a better position."
McMurray, who is in his fourth season driving the No. 1 Chevrolet with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, will be in a different role next year. He'll be the team's elder statesman and mentor 21-year-old Kyle Larson, who is moving up from the Nationwide Series and will replace Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 42 Chevrolet.
"I'm not one to push my opinion over," said McMurray, 37, "but if he's to ask my opinion then I'll be very honest with him. There will be a little bit that I can help him with on the track. Maybe going to tracks he's never been to . . . Martinsville, Pocono and some of those places and explain how restarts work or just little nuances that happen at each track.
"My role with Kyle is going to be much larger off the track with sponsor commitments, coming into more money, a lot of things that I don't know that we pay attention to when someone gets a Cup ride versus being in the trucks or Nationwide."
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