Feb 15, 2010

Jamie McMurray Wins The Daytona 500

On Sunday afternoon -- and evening -- Jamie McMurray won the 52nd running of the Daytona 500: The Stock-Car Racing Miniseries in three parts.

The adrenaline rush of the final two laps -- the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish under rules implemented by NASCAR before Thursday's Gatorade Duels -- all but erased the frustration of almost 2½ hours of stoppages as track workers at Daytona International Speedway repaired potholes in the asphalt between Turns 1 and 2.

McMurray, celebrating his reunion with owner Chip Ganassi with a victory in the first race of their second tenure together, crossed the finish line .119 seconds ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who surged from the pack to chase McMurray to the stripe on Lap 208, eight laps beyond the scheduled distance.

McMurray spun his tires on the restart on Lap 207 but got a push down the frontstretch and through the first turn from third-place finisher Greg Biffle. Securing the top spot from Kevin Harvick on the backstretch, McMurray led the final two laps. Those were the only laps he led, the lowest total for a Daytona 500 winner.

"Oh, my God!" McMurray screamed after taking the checkered flag. "I can't freaking believe it right now. Thank you so much. I can't believe we just won the Daytona 500."

Later, in Victory Lane, McMurray fought back tears. Though he won one race last season at Roush Fenway Racing, he struggled in his final year there and was the odd man out from his team's NASCAR-mandated reduction from five teams to four.

"It's a dream -- it really is," he said. "To be where I was last year, and for Johnny Morris [owner of sponsor Bass Pro Shops], Chip and [co-owner] Felix (Sabates) to take a chance on me and let me come back -- what a way to pay them back."

Clint Bowyer, who led 37 laps, finished fourth, followed by David Reutimann. Martin Truex Jr., Harvick, 2009 winner Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Juan Montoya completed the top 10.

An accident on Lap 194 involving Elliott Sadler, Ryan Newman and Travis Kvapil, set up a succession of three two-lap dashes. Caution interrupted the first on Lap 199 when Bill Elliott, Joey Logano and Boris Said crashed in Turn 3, with Biffle less than a mile from what would have been his first Daytona 500 victory.

NASCAR's rules require the race leader take the white flag and start the final lap under green before the race can end -- unless three attempts at a green-white-checkered-flag finish are exhausted.

The field failed to make it to the white flag under green on a restart on Lap 203, because NASCAR called a caution for a wreck off Turn 2 involving Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Robert Richardson and Jeff Gordon. By then, McMurray had rocketed to second position behind Harvick and restarted next to Harvick on Lap 207.

The push from Biffle gave him the edge he needed to win the race.

Not that McMurray didn't have a moment of panic. When he saw Earnhardt in his mirror in Turn 3 of the final lap, McMurray said, "No!" But Earnhardt didn't have time to make a move for the win.

"It was all a blur -- I was just going wherever they weren't," Earnhardt said of the closing laps. "I really don't enjoy being that aggressive. But if there was enough room for the radiator to fit, you just kind of held the gas down and prayed for the best.

"It was a lot of fun. It went by so fast, I couldn't really tell you the process. But I just remember going down the back straightaway and getting in between Greg and I don't remember who was on the outside of me. We all kind of wiggled through that whole deal. Jamie got away from us.

"I didn't even know where I was. Then we got into [Turn] 3. I was counting in my head how many laps we ran. I knew we were coming to the checkered; I was running second. This is awesome -- but it kind of sucks at the same time.

"It was frustrating to come that close. But, hell, we were running 22nd at the first green-white-checkered."

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