Sunday, February 11, 2018

CUP: Despite valiant efforts to repair a bent splitter, McMurray finishes last in The Clash

Jamie McMurray finished last in Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at the Daytona International Speedway when his #1 Cessna Chevrolet fell out with crash damage after 43 of 75 laps.

Despite a winless streak stretching back to 2013, McMurray closed out his 2017 season with a third-straight Playoff appearance, making it to the second round before a crash at Talladega knocked him out of the running. The Playoff appearance secured him a spot in this, his twelfth Clash, as he continues to search for his first pole since 2014. Though he won the Daytona 500 in 2010, McMurray had never won The Clash, coming as close as second in 2009 and 2011. He’d also led laps in four of the previous five, though crashed in two of those.

McMurray’s new Camaro from the Chip Ganassi Racing stables ran 13th in Saturday’s lone practice session, and drew sixteenth – next-to-last – for the main event. The field would consist of seventeen cars for the second-straight year, tied for the fewest in the race since 2000. Three eligible drivers did not enter: the retired Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Matt Kenseth, who was unable to find another top ride after ending his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, and Danica Patrick, whose deal to drive for Premium Motorsports came too late to prepare for the event. As of this writing, all three have not been classified in the official running order in the same way as other eligible, but missing drivers, have.

Starting last was Brad Keselowski, who would ultimately drive his #2 Miller Lite Ford to victory. At the start, Keselowski trailed into the first corner, following his new teammate Ryan Blaney in the #12 Menards Ford. He passed Blaney by the end of the first lap, and Blaney then moved Kyle Busch to last by the backstretch.

On Lap 3, Kasey Kahne took the last spot. Making his first start for Leavine Family Racing in the #95 Procore Chevrolet, Kahne was struggling with the team’s twitter reported as a “minor malfunction with the right side window board.” The issue so distracted Kahne that he couldn’t report on the car’s handling, and he began to lose touch with the lead pack. By Lap 6, he was a half-second behind the next car. Two laps later, he was three seconds out. Then seventeen back on Lap 14. The crew reassured Kahne he would be able to stay on the lead lap until the first stage ended on Lap 25. He did – though he was now thirty-nine seconds back of the leader – and a crewman climbed through the driver’s window to fix the issue. Pit stops by most of the leaders before the caution dropped Martin Truex, Jr. to last, but Kahne re-took the spot after his stop.

When the race restarted on Lap 30, Kahne was able to keep up with the pack, and dropped Ryan Newman to last down the backstretch. For the next four laps, Newman would trade the spot with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. as both struggled to keep up. It was during this battle on Lap 34 that the caution flew once more, bringing McMurray into the mix.

At the time, McMurray was in a battle with Kurt Busch near the front of the field. When Busch made a move to McMurray’s inside, Busch made contact with McMurray’s left-rear, sending the #1 Chevrolet into a spin. The car avoided the rest of the field, but then cut right and nosed into the outside wall with the right-front corner, then drove through the grass on his way to pit road. McMurray reported something dragging beneath his car, and the crew changed tires to get him out quickly. They sent him out for a lap, during which time McMurray drove his car on and off the banking in an effort to fix his twisted splitter. Then the crew put a block under the front valence and dropped the jack, trying to do the same.

The crew’s efforts kept McMurray in the race, but now one lap down when it restarted. But McMurray still wasn’t happy with the car, at one point saying “That’s about all I got.” On Lap 44, around the time Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was issued a drive-through penalty for going below the yellow line entering Turn 3, McMurray was told by his crew to take it to the garage, making him the race’s first retiree. Stenhouse’s penalty cost him a lap of his own, leaving him next-to-last. The rest of the Bottom Five – including Kahne, who had somewhat recovered from his slow start – was filled by a grinding last-lap accident entering the third turn.

*This marked the first last-place finish for both McMurray and car #1 in the Clash.
*McMurray’s 43 laps complete are the most by a last-place finisher of the Clash.

17) #1-Jamie McMurray / 43 laps / crash
16) #17-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 73 laps / running
15) #95-Kasey Kahne / 74 laps / running
14) #78-Martin Truex, Jr. / 74 laps / running
13) #9-Chase Elliott / 74 laps / running

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