Team: #1 (Chip Ganassi Racing)
Top 5s: 2
Top 10s: 12
Best finish: 4th (Talladega, May)
Points finish: 13th
Coming off his first Chase appearance, Jamie McMurray returned to Chip Ganassi Racing for the seventh season in 2016 with aspirations of making another Chase run.
McMurray kicked off the 2016 season with quiet runs, finishing in the top-20 in all but two races during the first ten events. At Talladega, he survived a wreck-filled race to finish 4th, his first top-5 of the year. As the season continued, he ran in the early- to mid-teens in the points standings and remained within the Chase Grid’s 16 spots for the entirety of the regular season outside of the season-opening Daytona 500, where he was 17th in points. By the end of the second Richmond race, he qualified for his second Chase via points.
As the Chase began, McMurray hoped to improve upon his 2015 standing and advance to the Round of 12. Although he was 11th in points after the opener in Chicagoland, he went from being a bubble driver after Loudon to missing the next round entirely after Dover. For the remainder of the Chase, his standing fluctuated between last of the Grid and 13th, the latter being where he ended the season.
By the end of the year, McMurray became the highest-placing driver and the lone Chaser to not lead a single lap in 2016. However, he remained consistent during the year, failing to finish only two races and recording a top-10 finish in 12 races.
The spring Talladega race. A track that McMurray had recorded his last win to date in 2013, he had struggled at the superspeedway since, recording finishes of 29th, 35th, 11th and 39th in the races between that win and 2016.
Despite starting 30th, McMurray took advantage of multiple crashes to advance his position. On lap 161, he was among 21 cars involved in the infamous “Big One” entering turn 1; as much of the cars were involved atop the track, McMurray went down onto the apron before pulling up, where his path was blocked by the sideways car of A. J. Allmendinger. As he came back down, McMurray was clipped by Brian Scott and Michael McDowell.
“I was so lucky that I got hit in the back and I spun to the bottom, but it didn’t tear-up the front-end,” McMurray stated. “It didn’t tear the splitter up. And I don’t know that my car was faster afterwards, but it didn’t seem to hurt it any.”
McMurray overcame the contact to finish 4th, a result that would be his best of the season and his first top-5 of the year. It also marked his seventh top-5 at Talladega, tying Charlotte for the most he recorded at a single track.
The Chase Dover race. Entering the race, McMurray and his Ganassi teammate Kyle Larson sat on the brink of elimination, Larson holding a five-point advantage over McMurray for the 12th and final spot in the next round. However, the teammates fell victim to the Monster Mile.
Throughout the race, McMurray battled with Austin Dillon for the Chase transfer spot. As the race approached the halfway point, McMurray’s day and Chase hopes came to an end on lap 192 when his engine failed. Later, Larson’s own dreams of advancing ended due to technical problems, a pit road penalty and eventually hitting the wall. McMurray was classified in 40th and last place while Dillon successfully advanced. After the race, McMurray was relegated to 15th place in the Chase standings.
“It’s unfortunate that both the #42 and the #1 had a problem today,” McMurray commented. “But it is what it is, and that’s why we race. I’m proud of my team and proud of our guys and all the hard work they’ve put in. And it stinks that it’s over this way, but we get to race next week.”
McMurray will return to Ganassi for the 2017 season. His contract with CGR expires after 2017 and no word has been released as to whether he is expected to re-sign with the team. The #1 team acquired a new sponsor, GearWrench, for four races.
Although he has not won a race since 2013, McMurray has provided CGR with consistent solid finishes. Barring the addition of a new driver, Ganassi will likely intend to retain the seven-time race winner beyond 2017.
Featured image courtesy of Athlon Sports