Need a big NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory? Dial one for Jamie McMurray.
The reigning Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 champion added a 500-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway race title to his season resume by rolling his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing car past Kyle Busch's No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing car on a restart with 20 laps remaining and driving away to a convincing 1.866 seconds victory.
Busch beat out four-time and defending series champion Jimmie Johnson for second before Denny Hamlin claimed fourth and Greg Biffle took the checkered flag fifth.
McMurray's second career Charlotte Motor Speedway October victory is the sixth of his career and moved him from 14th to the coveted 13th position in the series standings that would bring him an end-of-the-year bonus for being the highest finishing championship driver outside the 12 drivers who qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver seized his second straight top-two finish in Charlotte and third top-three finish in his past eight starts this season. The successful run was set up by the ninth and final caution period of the 334-lap race that started on Lap 310 when debris was discovered on the racetrack.
"After coming so close in the 600 earlier in the season, I really felt anything less than winning would be disappointing. We had such a great car in the spring; it just wasn't good enough on the short run.
"Tonight, it was very similar to that and as I was catching Kyle towards the end of the race I was thinking, 'as long as the caution doesn't come out we're going to be able to win this thing' because I was catching him pretty fast. When the caution came out, I really wasn't sure I'd have enough speed to outrun him in 25 or 30 laps. It was just our night. Our car unbelievable those last 25 or 30 laps, it was effortless to drive and it had a lot of speed in it," McMurray said.
Busch was denied his first career Charlotte Motor Speedway Sprint Cup Series victory after leading the race six times for an event-best 217 laps. He advanced four spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Series standings to fifth with his ninth top-five and 17th top-10 finish of the season, but was a bit unsatisfied with the result. "It was a really great race for us, the car was phenomenal all night, one of our best cars we've ever had. Being able to drive through people and get up toward the front at a racetrack that's difficult to pass on, that's the way we're supposed to run. It still doesn't matter how good we run; we still figure out how to give it up .
"The restart, I tried to get going. Jamie got a good restart, I don't know if he was pushed or not, but he had a good head of momentum getting into Turn 1. I got there and my car pushed up the racetrack. I got back to the gas and it was too late, he was already gone. There was nothing I could do. I couldn't stay to his outside even. His car was better than mine. I gave it all I had, but McMurray was better than me.
"It was a great feeling up until about 20 to go when we got a caution. got beat on the caution and in the ensuing laps. Apparently, I just didn't have the right adjustment in the car there at the end. Perfect example, two nights in a row; I didn't quite find what it took here from last night into tonight - just very, very frustrating," said Busch, who is 177 points behind Chase leader Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson, who generated six victories, 10 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in 19 career Charlotte Motor Speedway Sprint Cup Series starts, took the green flag 10th, battled through a Lap 35 solo spin at the exit of Turn 2 and survived pit road contact on Lap 110 before banking his fourth consecutive top-three finish and extending his championship lead five points to 41 over Hamlin.
"We just couldn't give up. I'm kind of proud it (the car) didn't hit anything (during the spin) because I did a lot of driving out the side, in reverse, turning the wheel and a bunch of stuff to try to keep it off the fence. We knew the track would come to us, it was just getting to that point. We did what we needed to tonight and got a great finish out of it.
"I had a lot of fun racing with Kyle. I knew I could race him really hard and we wouldn't get into a situation where we'd have a problem. He ran his lane, I ran mine. He wasn't mirror driving me and I wasn't trying to side draft him and screw him up or get in there in packed air and turn him around. We just really raced hard for that second spot," Johnson said.
Hamlin started 23rd and climbed back to fire off his third top-five and fifth top-10 finish in his past six starts. He scored his 12th top-five and 15th top-10 finish of the season and remains optimistic about his chances to keep the pressure on Johnson in the final five Chase races. "I thought we could win the race at one point. We were an adjustment away. Nothing we could do during pit stops today could give our car exactly what it needed. The key is, we know what we needed and we just didn't have time to get it in there in practice. I think we have a good direction from here on out, we're just going to keep fighting.
"We're going to a great track for us at Martinsville and Talladega, who knows? I'm happy with our day, a top five. You look at our average finish over the past couple of weeks - we've been up and down and some people think mediocre, but that's been good enough to win the championship two or three of the last four years.
"We have to do what we have to do to try to win races. Frankly, I feel (Johnson) is in our sites. He's eight positions in one race in front of us and that can be overcome pretty easily," Hamlin said.
Martinsville Speedway race coverage begins Oct. 24 at 1:00 p.m., on ESPN, Motor Racing Network Radio and Sirius XM Radio 128.
Story by Mike Schmaltz